Base Ten Buildings – A STEAM Activity

By |2018-07-13T00:59:27-07:00September 6th, 2016|

Base Ten buildings blocks are a staple math manipulative in the elementary classroom. They help students visualize the abstract concept of the value of each place in a number. A small cube represents digits in the ones’ place of a number. Ten of those cubes stacked together to form a rod represents the tens’ place digit. The hundreds’ place digit is represented by ten of the rods stuck together, and the thousands place digit is represented by ten hundred blocks forming a large cube.

This video clip shares a great example of how they are used to teach place value if you are new to Base Ten buildings blocks.

Base Ten Buildings - A STEAM Activity, Education Closet

Place Value as a Foundation

Every year, students use Base Ten buildings blocks when learning place value. First graders begin by learning about two-digit numbers, up to fourth graders, who are expected to be able to read and write multi-digit whole numbers and use those numbers for multistep computation. Without a thorough knowledge of place value, students have great difficulty succeeding in math, for it is the foundation for everything related to numbers.

Block Creations

To help students master this crucial concept, I like to have my students practice with these blocks to develop their number sense in a creative way. After students understand the basics of the how Base Ten buildings blocks represent numbers, I challenge them to create a creation out of the blocks. There are no rules for these creations and creativity is encouraged. Once students have completed their creations, they must determine the value of the creation based upon the Base Ten buildings blocks they used.

Students practice writing the number in standard form, expanded form, and word form. Next, the students trade places with another classmate and determine the value of that student’s creation. Students compare values and recount if they differ. (As a variation, I give students a target number, such as 264, and students are challenged to create a structure out of that exact number.)

Base Ten Buildings, Education Closet

Naturally Connected Standards

While Base Ten blocks are not a traditional medium for visual arts, the way we use them in this activity addresses the National Core Arts Standards. It uses Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work, especially in grade 3 (Elaborate on an imaginative idea) and in grade K/1 (Engage in exploration and imaginative play with materials). To expand the activity, students can sketch the structure of creation that they made and add color and details to turn it into what they were imagining when they created it, addressing Anchor Standard 3 (Refine and complete artistic work).

This activity is so versatile — it can be done as a station, in a small group, or as a whole group. It can be modified for multiple grade levels by only providing the base ten blocks for the place values that are taught at that level. Any way that you use it, the activity provides a creative and engaging extension on this tried and true math manipulative.
Base Ten Buildings, Education Closet

If you found this helpful, please let us know in the comments below!  And if you’re looking for more ideas like this one, check out our Designed to STEAM online class for PD hours.  There’s a bunch of lessons, strategies, and assessments provided in there for you as well.


  1. Gwen September 8, 2016 at 11:39 am - Reply

    I sent the link to this lesson out to my classroom teachers yesterday, and this morning I came into the staff room to see one of the teacher making photocopies of your worksheet. She loved the idea, and thought it was a perfect fit for what she already had planned for the unit.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Dyan Branstetter September 8, 2016 at 6:44 pm - Reply

      Hi Gwen! Thank you for sharing it with your staff. I’m glad it was useful!

  2. Allison McMillen September 8, 2016 at 5:25 pm - Reply

    Love it! I am wrapping up place value tomorrow in my third grade classroom before our assessment next week. What could be more fun on a Friday?! 🙂

    • Dyan Branstetter September 8, 2016 at 6:48 pm - Reply

      Hi Allison! I am wrapping up place value with my third graders tomorrow, too! I hope your students enjoy the activity. It gets a little loud, but it the students LOVE the opportunity to build and be creative. It is fun seeing them get ideas from what others are doing and add on to their own creations. Let me know how it goes!

  3. Stephanie Cardwell October 24, 2018 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    I love this! I am responsible for enrichment during our response to intervention block. I needed something to extend place value and I was struggling. This is great!

    • Susan Riley October 25, 2018 at 2:45 am - Reply

      So happy this was helpful, Stephanie. Thanks for the feedback! 🙂

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