EL Support Lesson

Base-Ten Blocks

Use this lesson to introduce the tool of base-ten blocks to your students. This scaffolded EL support lesson can be used as a stand-alone activity, or prior to teaching Three-Digit Addition with Base-Ten Models.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Three-Digit Addition with Base-Ten Models lesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Three-Digit Addition with Base-Ten Models lesson plan.

Students will be able to understand that the three digits of a three-digit number represent amounts of hundreds, tens, and ones.


Students will be able to explain how many hundreds, tens, and ones they need to create a three-digit number with content-specific vocabulary using partnerships and place value mats for support.

(5 minutes)
  • Write 483 on the whiteboard.
  • Pass out personal whiteboards and a whiteboard marker to each student.
  • Say, "If you were going to show me how much 383 is worth, how might you do that? I want you to think about tools and strategies that might work. Draw a picture or write down words and phrases that explain your thinking. Your answer doesn't have to be correct! I want you to think about what you know about place value to come up with some ideas. If you aren't sure, check in with a partner for support."
  • Give students two minutes to jot down their ideas (discuss their ideas with their peers if necessary).
  • Allow a few students to share out their ideas. Do not correct their answers, simply allow students to share their thoughts without the pressure of being correct. Jot down their ideas on the whiteboard and expand their ideas as appropriate by offering and recording other strategies such as a place value mat, sketching base-ten blocks, using base-ten blocks, writing the number in expanded form, etc.
  • Encourage students to compare and contrast the displayed methods, if applicable. Ask probing questions such as:
    • Which strategy would be the easiest to use?
    • Which strategy (or strategies) would show the values in a visual way?
    • Which strategy would you like to try?
  • Clarify that three-digit numbers are numbers with a value in the ones place, a value in the tens place, and a value in the hundreds place.
  • Explain to the students that today they will be exploring how to use base-ten blocks to represent base-ten numerals.
(8 minutes)
  • Ask students to form pairs and pass out one copy of the Vocabulary Cards and one copy of the Place Value Mat: Three-Digit Numbers to each partnership. Provide each partnership with a whiteboard marker.
  • Read through the vocabulary cards, referring to the visuals to support student understanding. Pause after reading each vocabulary word and have students explain the meaning of the word in their own words to their partner. Clarify any misconceptions as necessary.
  • Invite a few students to share out their definitions with the class.
  • Project the Place Value Mat: Three-Digit Numbers on the whiteboard. Explain to the students that a place value mat is a resource that helps us break down a three-digit number into its place value.
  • Write the number 483 on the place value mat, writing each place value in the correct space (e.g. 4 in hundreds, 8 in tens, and 3 in ones). Instruct partnerships to copy down the number on their place value mats.
  • Call out the vocabulary words (ones, tens, hundreds) one at a time and ask student volunteers to point to the corresponding place value on the place value mat. Say, "I want you to think about what the value is for the digit, or number you are pointing to. If I'm pointing to the 3, I know the 3 is in the ones place, so that means the 3 is worth 3 ones or 3."
  • Illustrate the values of each place value by representing the numbers using base-ten blocks.
  • Provide students with a sentence frame to support them as they explain the value of each digit.
    • The ____ is worth ____ or ____ (e.g. The 8 is worth 8 tens or 80).
  • Continue this process until students have shared the value for all three digits.
(8 minutes)
  • Explain to the students that now they will play I Have, Can You? in their partnerships.
  • Project the I Have, Can You? worksheet on the whiteboard.
  • Ask a student volunteer to come up to the front of the classroom to be your partner.
  • Get out one set of notecards and read through the student-friendly directions. Model completing the first problem on the worksheet with your student volunteer, using one of the three-digit numbers written on a notecard from the set. Reiterate that they will be using one three-digit number for all three steps (partner A, partner B, partner A & B).
  • Clarify any misconceptions and ask students to explain the steps to their partner in their own words before they get started.
(10 minutes)
  • Pass out a set of notecards to each partnership and a copy of the I Have, Can You? worksheet.
  • Give the students time to complete the problems on their worksheet.
  • Rotate around the room and support students as they solve the problems.


  • Define the vocabulary words in English and student's home language (L1).
  • Pair students with a partner who speaks the same L1, if possible.
  • Allow students to discuss their answers in their L1 with a small group of peers who speak the same L1.


  • Instruct students to explain the steps to figure out the values of each number using sequencing words.
  • Challenge students to share their answer orally to the class without relying on the sentence frames for support.
(5 minutes)
  • Collect student worksheets and use them as a formative assessment to assess student understanding of the content objective.
  • Pass out a scrap piece of paper to each student and ask them to write their name at the top.
  • Present a final three-digit number (e.g. 491).
  • Allow students to use any of the strategies they discussed today (they should be recorded on the whiteboard from the introduction) to represent the value of the three-digit number (base-ten blocks, base-ten sketches, place value mats, expanded form, etc). Make sure students have access to base-ten blocks and place value mats.
  • Give students time to solve the problem and then have students share the method or strategy they used to arrive at an answer.
  • Invite students up to the whiteboard to share what strategy they chose to solve the problem and encourage them to illustrate their strategy on the whiteboard for the rest of the class to observe.
  • Provide sentence frames to support students in sharing their ideas, such as:
    • I used ____ to show the value of each number. There are ____ hundreds, ____ tens, and ____ ones.
(3 minutes)
  • Ask students to think about the following discussion question and respond to one of them. Have students respond to the question one at a time, using a whip-around-pass.
    • How did this activity help you understand three-digit numbers better?
    • What are you still wondering?
    • What is something new you learned today?

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