Manipulatives for Teaching Math

Why should you use manipulatives for teaching math to all students, not just struggling ones?

Studies show that elementary children develop meaningful understanding of mathematical concepts when manipulative materials are used. Jean Piaget, one of the first psychologists to study cognitive development in children, suggested that concepts are formed as a result of “action experience building up mental structures that serve as a reference system for the interpretation of direct sensory experience.”

The use of manipulative materials by young students helps to develop basic skills and results in the enhanced formation of accurate early mathematical concepts. Using manipulatives also develops the ability to visualize and solve problems spatially, which has been proven to have a strong correlation to advanced mathematical skill.

Here are some of my favorite manipulatives for teaching math in elementary school.

Cuisenaire Rods

If I were to choose only one manipulative to have in the elementary school classroom, I would choose Cuisenaire Rods (or integer blocks such as Mortensen or Math U See that are based on the same concept). And yet most children I work with have never  used or even seen these before.   Cuisenaire rods are a commonly used math manipulative in Europe, where a Belgian teacher invented them in the 1940s. Georges Cuisenaire was a violin player inspired by the relationship between music and math. The rods he developed  are wooden or

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Earlier today I posted Black Friday Amazon deals for Math Games. This post is for Black Friday deals on math toys. My post Toys For Developing Mathematical Thinking tells you

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I mentioned in a previous post that I had three favorite sessions when I attended the Conference for the Advancement of Math Teaching this summer. Two were sessions I went

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Numberblocks is a BBC show currently available on Netflix. (Many of the 5 minute episodes also are on YouTube.) This show is a fantastic resource for teaching number sense in

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One of my favorite activities for spatially gifted students who need a challenge is the Soma Cube. The Soma Cube is a puzzle consisting of seven pieces made from unit

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Soma Cube

One of the most important tools that I use for math instruction at any elementary and even middle school level is the life sized number line. For more on uses

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Life Sized Number Line

Digi-Blocks Digi-Blocks are manipulatives which are an alternative to traditional base 10 blocks. They are used in the same way to model place value, but Digi-Blocks are based on a

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Remember making angles with cardstock and brads to teach acute, obtuse and right angles? I did it with students just last year. Then I learned about AngLegs, adjustable angle manipulatives

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According to, there are 13 distinct types of dominoes! I use several of these for math instruction. We play games, do hands on activities, read a great book, and

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Different Types of Dominoes for Math

Not only is using Legos in math class a way to build spatial and proportional awareness and develop creativity, but many math concepts can be explicitly taught using Legos. Multiplication

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Fraction tiles, also called fraction bars or fraction strips, are the single most important manipulative you can have for teaching fractions. They are brightly colored plastic rectangles that represent a

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The number balance is a math manipulative that I had never used or even seen for many years that is now one of my and my students’ favorites. It is

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Number Balance Math Manipulative

What is a Rekenrek? Rekenreks are tools also known as math racks, arithmetic racks, or calculating frames. Researchers at the Freudenthal Institute in the Netherlands developed them to teach number

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While many manipulatives I write about have not been used before by most of my students, traditional pattern blocks are pretty ubiquitous in preschool and early elementary classrooms. However, many

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Pattern Block Variations

Benefits of Tangrams Rarely have I met a student who has used tangrams before, but, along with pentominoes, they are fabulous for developing spatial reasoning skills and giving a practical

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Square tiles are one of the most simple and versatile math manipulatives you can have in your classroom. They are one inch colored plastic squares. In the resources section below

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Square Tiles

Picture from Amazon Pentominoes are a good math manipulative that students of any age can use with a wide range of application as they increase their understanding of math. Even

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If I could only buy one toy this would be it! These are incredibly versatile building materials where 2D geometric shapes easily connect to make 3D shapes because of the

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