5 Effective Math Manipulatives and How to Use Them

Enrichment Therapies

November 29, 2017

math resources and tools

By Haley Hall, B.A.
LEAP Instructor & Learning Specialist

We all know that children learn best when they’re interested in the subject material being taught, but this can often be difficult. One of my favorite ways to keep students engaged during math is to use manipulatives. By allowing children to touch and experience math concepts, they’re able to better understand what the numbers and symbols represent. Here are 5 of my favorite math manipulatives with ideas for how to use each of them.

  1. Dice: In my classroom, I have a variety of shapes and sizes of dice. Some have numbers written on each face, while others have dots. There are many different ways to use dice to help engage children in various math concepts. For children learning computation, have them roll two dice, and add/subtract/multiply/divide the two numbers facing up. You could use traditional dice with numbers 1-6 on each face, or you could use a die with larger numbers. I like to buy blank dice and write the numbers that each student needs to focus on each face. For example, for a student practicing division facts in the 2’s family, I would write multiples of 2 on each die. They would roll just one die, and take that number and divide it by 2. For an extra challenge, a student could use a timer and a recording sheet to see how many facts they can answer in one minute. For another idea explaining how to practice early math concepts using dice and board games, check out this video!
  2. Colored cubes: My favorite types of math manipulatives are those that can be used for many different learning abilities and activities. These colored cubes are so versatile, that I find myself pulling them out almost daily. To aid in visualizing a math concept such as addition, write out a math fact on a piece of paper. Then, ask the child to use the cubes to represent the problem. They could use one color of cubes for the first number in the math problem, and another color to represent the second number. For the total, they can just stack the two colors together. You could also use these cubes to practice patterns. Create a pattern of colors and have the child continue it. Make stacks of 2, 4, and 6 cubes and have the child create the stack that comes next.
  3. Play money: One of the students’ most memorable math units from last year was when we set up a school store and used play money to “purchase” goods. Students were assigned task cards that challenged them to use their money in the best way. They practiced counting money, giving change, staying within a budget, finding the cost per item, following a list, and comparing prices to find the best buy. To set up a store, save empty grocery items, such as cereal boxes, milk gallons, etc., and use labels to write prices on each item. Display them on a table and let the child go “shopping!”
  4. Fraction tiles: Fractions can be very difficult for students to grasp, and fraction tiles really help show a student what the fractions look like. When just looking at the numbers, it’s hard to tell why 1/2 is greater than 1/5, but when I show a student the fraction tiles, they can immediately see which fraction is greater. You can also use fraction tiles to practice equivalent fractions. Give a child 2/3 and ask them to find an equivalent fraction. Using the tiles, they’ll be able to line up 4/6 and see that they are equal.
  5. Base ten blocks: These blocks come in various sizes, representing hundreds, tens and ones. When teaching place value, students greatly benefit from using the base ten blocks. Create a simple place value chart, or download the one I use here. Ask your child to use the blocks to show 258. They would place 2 hundreds blocks in the hundreds column, 5 tens blocks in the tens column, and 8 ones blocks in the ones column. It is also effective to use the place value chart and base ten blocks when teaching addition with carrying and subtraction with borrowing. The blocks help the child visualize what carrying and borrowing look like. Once they’ve mastered using the blocks, they can just use their mind to visualize carrying and borrowing and accurately complete multi-digit addition and subtraction problems on paper.

Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech-language therapy and tutoring as well as offering small group academic programs.  At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success.  Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.


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