EL Support Lesson

Thinking About Three-Digit Numbers

Help students gain a better understanding of three-digit numbers by providing students with opportunities to compare sets of three-digit numbers. Use as a stand-alone activity or alongside the lesson Building My Math Fluency.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Building My Math Fluency lesson plan.
Grade Subject View aligned standards

No standards associated with this content.

No standards associated with this content.

No standards associated with this content.

Which set of standards are you looking for?

This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Building My Math Fluency lesson plan.

Students will be able to use place value to compare three-digit numbers.


Students will be able to use place value to explain the similarities and differences between sets of three-digit numbers using sentence frames and partnerships for support.

(5 minutes)
  • Write down the following numbers on the whiteboard: 179 and 468.
  • Say, "Think about what you know about place value and discuss the following questions with an elbow partner." Write the question stems and corresponding sentence frames on the whiteboard and read them aloud:
    • Do these numbers have any similarities, or things that are the same?
      • These numbers are the same because ____.
    • Which number is the biggest? Which number is the smallest?
      • The biggest/smallest number is ____.
    • Imagine these numbers were on a number line. What number might be in between them?
      • The number ____ would be in between ____ and ____.
  • Give students a few minutes to discuss their ideas with their peers. Allow a few students to share out and guide them to use the sentence frames for support. Do not correct their answers, simply allow students to share their thoughts without the pressure of being correct.
  • Clarify that both numbers are three-digit numbers. Explain 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. Read both numbers aloud and have students repeat the numbers chorally back to you (e.g. one hundred seventy nine).
  • Explain to the students that today they will be comparing sets of three-digit numbers to gain a better understanding of what three-digit numbers are.
(8 minutes)
  • Put students in pairs and pass out one copy of the Vocabulary Cards and one copy of the Place Value Mat: Three-Digit Numbers to each partnership.
  • 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.
  • Encourage 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 345 on the place value mat, writing each place value in the correct space (e.g. 3 in hundreds, 4 in tens, and 5 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 have students point to the corresponding place value on their place value mats. 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 5, I know the 5 is in the ones place, so that means the 5 is worth 5 ones or 5."
  • Provide students with a sentence frame to support them as they explain the value of each digit.
    • The ____ is worth ____ or ____ (e.g. The 4 is worth 4 tens or 40).
  • Continue this process until students have shared the value for all three digits.
(8 minutes)
  • Project the Comparing Three-Digit Numbers worksheet on the whiteboard and ask students to stay in their partnerships.
  • Read through the directions and prompting questions on the worksheet. Next, write the underlined words on the whiteboard and provide visuals to represent their meaning along with brief, student-friendly definitions (e.g. similarities, the same). Elaborate that it's important for them to understand the meaning of the words in the prompting questions so they can discuss their answers in their partnerships.
  • Refer to the example problem on the worksheet. Explain to the students that there are three three-digit numbers. Tell the students that you will refer to these numbers as a set. There are three numbers in the set.
  • Read through each prompting question. Complete a think-aloud to answer each question and show the students the corresponding answer written in the work space section of the example problem. Explicitly discuss how to figure out the answers recorded in the work space.
  • Read through the challenge with the students and model using the Place Value Mat: Three-Digit Numbers to add all three numbers together. Detail the process for regrouping, and explain to the students that if they attempt the challenge, they should just try their best as it can be tricky to add multiple three-digit numbers with regrouping. Tell the students you will provide support as needed.
(10 minutes)
  • Allow students to complete the next two problems on the Comparing Three-Digit Numbers worksheet with their partners.
  • Circulate and listen to students talk during pair work or group work, and jot notes about common or important words and phrases, together with helpful sketches or diagrams.
  • Scribe students’ words and sketches on visual display to refer back to during whole class discussions on three-digit numbers.


  • Provide students with base-ten blocks to use during the lesson.
  • Write down similar prompting questions from the worksheet on notecards in student's home language (L1), if possible, before the lesson. Encourage students to refer to them as they are completing the worksheet to support their understanding.
  • Pair students with a bilingual peer who speaks the same home language (L1) or allow them to work in small, teacher-led groups.


  • Encourage students to answer prompting questions without referring to sentence stems/frames for support.
  • Challenge students to come up with another set of three-digit numbers. Have students use the prompting questions on the worksheet to reflect on the number's place values and similarities/differences.
  • Refer back to the words, phrases, and diagrams by asking students to explain how they are useful in showing their thinking about the three-digit numbers.
  • Ask students to clarify the meaning of the important words, phrases, and visuals, and ask students to reflect on which words and visuals help them to communicate their ideas better.
(3 minutes)
  • Ask students to think about the following discussion questions and respond to one of them. Have students respond to the questions 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?

Add to collection

Create new collection

Create new collection

New Collection


New Collection>

0 items