Must-Have Math Manipulatives For Upper Elementary
By Mary Montero
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Teachers loooooove school supples, am I right?? I find that also extends to hands-on learning tools, which is why I’m sharing some of my favorite math manipulatives that are great for upper elementary students. Hands-on learning isn’t just for younger students… older students can also benefit from a variety of learning tools and visuals, and they are a great way to get students engaged in practicing math skills. The BEST part is that a lot of these math manipulatives can be used for more than one skill, so your classroom purchases stretch a lot further. For easy reference, you can browse all of my favorite math manipulatives on Amazon (affiliate link), but I’ll be discussing exactly what you can do with each of these math manipualtives below.
TEACHER TIP: At the beginning of the year, we spend a lot of time setting up expectations around the use of math manipulatives, particularly in math centers. Each time we use them, I quickly discuss the reminder that these are learning tools and not toys, but I always let my students explore the manipulatives for a few minutes before we dive into the lesson to help cut down on pattern block towers, roaming dice, etc. during the middle of our work.
For easy reference, you can browse all of my favorite math manipulatives on Amazon (affiliate link).
Pattern Blocks (Amazon affiliate link) are a staple math manipulative that can be used for a variety of skills. We use pattern blocks for skills far beyong geometry (although using them with tiny mirrors to teach symmetry is a favorite activity of mine). In fact, I use them to practice so many fraction skills! You can read about how I use them for equivalent fractions, fraction operations review, dividing fractions, and fraction projects too.
We also use pattern blocks to practice place value. Students create a picture and then solve place value tasks related to their art. You can download this FREE pattern block place value activity here.
Base Ten Blocks
Base Ten blocks (Amazon affiliate link) are frequently used in lower elementary grades, but upper elementary students can benefit from these math manipulatives too! Did you know you can use them for volume? I created this FREE base ten block challenge that focuses on selecting which size box will fit an item of a certain volume, so it makes them think about volume a little bit differently.
For place value, I created these Mystery Number Place Value Challenges that students couldn’t get enough of! I also use them for building conceptual place value knowledge, including with decimal place value.
Math dice are another versatile upper elementary math manipulative. These are the different types of dice I use in my math classroom and consider must-haves (click each below to see them via the affiliate link):
There are so many ways to use dice in math! Instead of using traditional flash cards for multiplication fact practice, have students roll two dice (or dice in dice) and then multiply them together. The teaching dice are great because different operations are included, so students can roll two numbers and then a third dice to determine which operation to perform on them. Using the 12-sided dice, students can practice all facts up to 12×12.
Get creative with your dice, too! I use my dice in dice for this fun (and free) dividing fractions game!
These magnetic Fraction tiles and circles (Amazon affiliate link) get a ton of use in my upper elementary classroom! They were literally on my board for three solid months while we worked on fraction skills, and I constantly used them to model situations, and so did the students! You can buy student sets, but I’ve found that having them make their own sets is even more impactful.
This FREE real-world fraction task cards set is a great place to start, and the fraction circles make each problem easier to visualize. They’re also super valuable when working with percents, decimals, and fractions.
Place Value Manipulatives
Place value disks and flip charts (Amazon affiliate links) are super useful visuals for mastering and practicing place value, and students absolutely love them. This FREE place value activity with the place value discs will really get your students thinking and encourage them to think critically about the difference between value and quantity, as well as the different ways to write a number.
Elapsed Time Skills Manipulatives
Elapsed time is a super tricky skill for many students, but this elapsed time set (Amazon affiliate link) really helps. It includes a 24-hour timeline with removal guide numbers. This post is packed with more elapsed time tips to go with them!
Perimeter and Area Math Manipulatives
I pull out my colored squares every year when I introduce perimeter and area (and when practicing arrays for multiplication, too!). They are the perfect way to build a conceptual understanding of units and square units.
This one is not really a manipulative, but I consider it a must-have for teaching area and perimeter, and that is colored index cards. I use them to teach students the relationships between perimeter and area, and I will never not use them! I chat more about that HERE.
Okay, these aren’t technically a math manipulative but they re great for hands-on fun. Most students are familiar with Topple Blocks (Amazon affiliate link) or “Jenga” style games, so why not use those to increase engagement?? Inspired by Hope King’s use of Jenga games in the classroom, I’ve created an entire line of resources where students use colored blocks while practicing their math skills. The sets include a multi-colored dice that the students roll, and it tells them which colored block they need to pull from the tower. Before they can pull their block, everyone on the team answers a question with the corresponding color.
I have taken great care to create these games so that students are exposed to a wide variety of different skills and methods of practice within each concept. It’s a win-win because students are super engaged and I know they’re practicing valuable math skills. You can browse this math bundle on TpT, or click here to browse Topple Block games for a variety of other crucial skills too.
This post has a FREE elapsed time Topple Blocks game your students can try!
Other Must-Have Math Manipulatives
I have a few more manipulatives I consider must-haves in general… Here they are:
Graph Paper: I use graph paper for perimeter and area, multiplication, division, geometry, etc. So, basically for ALL the things. 🙂
Translucent Sticky Notes: These are great for the same reasons tracing paper is! Just make sure you get the square ones.
Centimeter Cubes: I use these manipulatives while teaching volume, multiplication (arrays), and more.
Balance Scales: Of course these are important for teaching measurement skills, BUT I use these as an introduction to algebra skills to show balance on both sides of an equation, too!
Anglegs: These are really neat for teaching angles. You can also create your own using straws and twisty ties, but these are easier to use.
Cuisenaire Rods: These are a classroom staple! You can use these for pretty much every single math skill you teach.
Angle Circles: My students LOVE these angle circles for visualizing angles and how they go together to create a complete circle or semi-circle.
Dry Erase Boards: Okay, I know these aren’t a math manipulative, but you NEED a mini set of dry erase boards. I use them almost every single day.
Do you have favorite math manipulatives to share?
What are some of your personal favorite math manipulatives? We’d love to hear about them in our FREE Inspired in Upper Elementary Facebook group, a collaborative teacher community just for teachers like YOU!
I’m so glad you are here. I’m a current gifted and talented teacher in a small town in Colorado, and I’ve been in education since 2009. My passion (other than my family and cookies) is for making teachers’ lives easier and classrooms more engaging.