One of my favorite parts of my classroom is the math manipulative shelf. I try to keep it stocked with a variety of materials that can help students build concrete models of all sorts of math problems.
We have a rule in my class: if you can’t solve a math problem on your own you must build it before asking for help. So much of third-grade math is abstract: the perimeter of imaginary places, the area of imaginary floors and walls, fractions of abstract objects, imaginary money being exchanged between two people, etc. These can all be tricky concepts to visualize mentally.
Our school has never provided any math manipulatives, but I have slowly gathered a set of must-have manipulatives for third grade. Check them out!
My students love counting bears. They are easy to grasp and can help to model addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. These come in especially handy as students are learning to multiply and divide.
These are a particularly inexpensive manipulative. Along with our bears we use bingo dots to make physical representations of most addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems. One of my favorite ways to use bingo dots is during our first multiplication lesson of the year. We build arrays with bingo dots. It's a quick and easy lesson that is super hands-on!
Fraction Pieces and Magnets
I always introduce fractions with manipulatives. Having students build fractions really helps them to develop a concrete understanding of how you can have a fraction of an item. Although there are many cut-and-glue fraction sets, I prefer to use store-bought ones. I just find that when students cut them out their pieces are not always exact, and this leads to confusion when trying to compare fractions.
Play money is a great manipulative to add. In third grade, we spend a lot of time counting counts and subtracting money. I have a handful of students who prefer to count physical money and this is great for them! When doing word problems about ‘buying something at a store’ my students know how to role-play this in pairs and use play money to find their answer.
Teaching time (especially quarter-to, quarter-past, and half-past) is such a tricky part of third-grade math. I always teach the first time lessons with each student holding a clock. Then, as they get to these questions in their homework and independent practice they are able to return to those clocks to physically create each time (or elapsed time) that is needed. I love how using a clock really helps to cement this concept for most students!
This is the least expensive of all my manipulatives! I keep a stack of scrap paper in my math manipulative area. I find that it is super helpful when students are able to draw out a problem - particularly when it involves distance (i.e. “A car travels 250 miles…”) or area/perimeter. Some of my students are super successful when they are able to make a quick sketch and add in dimensions to visualize the ‘whole picture’.
I’m always looking to add to my math manipulative collection. What works best in your class? Send me an e-mail or sound off in the comments below!