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What is place value?

This article has been written by Katherine Pate.

You will have learned place value, perhaps without realising. You use it every time you read a number.

A number is written using digits. In 236, the digits are 2, 3 and 6. The place or position of each digit in the number gives it its value.

  • In 236 the place value of the ‘2’ is 2 hundreds
  • In 623 the place value of the ‘2’ is 2 tens
  • In 632 the place value of the ‘2’ is 2 ones
  • You may have learned about ‘hundreds, tens and units’ when you were at school. Now teachers often use ‘ones’ instead of units, because ‘unit’ can have other meanings, for example a unit of measurement.

    How do children learn place value?

    In key stage 1 children begin to read and write two-digit numbers and recognise the place value of each digit.

    They represent two-digit numbers with tens and ones blocks:

    and in place value tables:

     Tens  Ones
    5 3

    and begin to partition numbers into tens and ones:

    In key stage 2 they work with larger numbers, starting with hundreds:

    Hundreds Tens Ones
    1 2 4

    and thousands:

    Thousands Hundreds Tens Ones
    1 2 4

    and then up to millions:

    Millions  Hundred Thousands Ten Thousands Thousands Hundreds Tens Ones
    4 5 7 2 1 8

    ‘four million, five hundred and seventy-two thousand, one hundred and eight’

    Decimal place value

    In key stage 2 children also begin to recognise and use place value of decimals , up to three decimal places.

    Ones . tenths hundredths thousandths
    3 . 1 7

    ‘three point one zero seven’

    An understanding of place value helps your child answer questions like this:

  • Write the number shown on this abacus
  • Write 208 in words
  • Write 5.26 in words
  • Write three hundred and twenty-one in digits
  • Which is larger: 3027 or 3152?
  • Both numbers have 3 thousands. Look at the next place value place.

    3027 has 0 hundreds

    3152 has 1 hundred

    So 3152 is larger than 3027

  • Make the largest possible number with these digits
  • Put the largest digit in the highest place value: 7521

  • Make the smallest possible number with these digits
  • Put the smallest digit in the highest place value: 1257

  • What is the value of the 7 in this number: 3720?
  • 7 hundred

  • Work out the number that is one hundred more than 3419
  • Work out the number that is 1000 less than 76210
  • Practice at home

    Read numbers you see around you with your child – for example house numbers in your street, car number plates, newspaper headlines, advertisements.

    Compare numbers in real life contexts – for example which is less: £27 or £35?

    Which is the largest football crowd: 5300 or 10200?

    Practice spellings of numbers 1-20, the ‘tens’ 30, 40, 50, … and hundred, thousand, etc



    To practice place value with your child, Collins Maths Targeted Practice Workbooks are a great tool that target every topic covered in each school year. They include plenty of repeated practice to help your child do their best in Maths.