Accessibility / Instruction · October 28, 2021

Making Learning Concrete with Hands-On Activities and Manipulatives

Practice and Application

The 6th component of SIOP is Practice and Application. Practice and Application focuses on how will students will practice both the content and language objectives. It is the what and the how of the lesson. When we are thinking about Practice and Application, it’s important to keep three considerations in mind.

  • Provide hands-on materials and/or manipulatives for students to practice using new content knowledge.
  • Provide hands-on activities for students to apply content and language knowledge in the classroom.
  • Use activities that integrate all language skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking)

In this blog post, we will be focusing on the first consideration of providing students with manipulatives and hands-on materials.

Why and How to Use Hands on Materials

While it’s easy to blow off tactile, hands-on activities, they are essential to building meaning and student engagement. Utilizing manipulatives helps make abstract learning more concrete, more visual, and helps to build student confidence. While often used for math lessons, manipulatives can be used across all subjects. In order to use these tools successfully, it’s important to talk about how to introduce these tools into the classroom so that they don’t become toys. As a teacher, I focus on three things when introducing a new hands-on tool.

  1. Introduce manipulatives as tools. I explicitly teach my students how to use the materials correctly. What does it look like to roll a dice responsibly in a classroom? Are we supposed to make towers out of base 10 blocks when learning? We talk about what class time with manipulatives should look like, sound like, and feel like.
  2. Give students time to explore. When first introducing a new manipulative, it’s worth the investment to allow students to explore. What can we learn from these tools? What can you discover about these tools? Then before an activity, I give students another three minutes to explore. For example, when using Cuisenaire Rods, I allow 3 minutes to build a structure before moving on and asking students to complete a problem using a strategy we’ve learned. Expect kids to be kids, and give them time to get the silly out before moving on to the learning.
  3. Be explicit in expectations. Students need clear expectations on how to use tactile materials. Consider having them posted in your room, included in your handout, or projected on the whiteboard. Below are examples of what this might look like for different age groups. Adapt to make your own, here.

Digital Manipulatives

Math Expressions iTools for K-6

iTools is an extension of Math Expressions, available for our kinder through 6th grade students. iTools can be accessed through Think Central by logging into Clever with their district google email address. Need more information about Clever? Learn more, here.

When students open iTools, they have a lot of different options as to what manipulatives they may want to use!

Below, you can see some examples of iTools at work.

How one teacher uses iTools in their 4th grade classroom

My favorite iTools manipulative to use in the classroom so far this year has been the math mountains. My students use math mountains to help understand inverse relationships between numbers. In the 4th grade, students are really cementing the understanding that numbers can be related in various ways, but are also, for the first time, operating with very large numbers. This makes it pretty easy to make mistakes. Students especially love using math mountains on iTools because it helps us catch those addition/subtraction mistakes with a simple catch. As a teacher, I love to have students use these math mountains to check their own work as it will tell them if it is correct without supplying them with the correct response.

We often screenshot our math mountains and bring them into seesaw so students can share their thoughts using the label or voice features. It gives me the opportunity to hear ALL student thoughts.

In the video below, you’ll see that in order to use think centrals iTools or the Math Activity Center, students need to enable pop ups in their safari settings (1:48) OR log in through Clever on Chrome (2:41).

Fraction Circle Template
Fraction Strip Template
10 Frame Template
Base 10 Block Template
Number Line Template

Didax Virtual Manipulatives

For those that do not have access to iTools, Didax offers free browser based manipulatives. As you can see below, there are plenty of options that can help bring digital manipulatives into your secondary school classroom.

Other Virtual Manipulative for Secondary

Access additional virtual manipulatives as seen below, here!

Seesaw Templates

We also have numerous Seesaw templates you can use that have manipulatives students can use to help demonstrate their learning. Interested in accessing a template above? Click on the link in the top left corner of each image, or find the link below.

Hands-on Manipulatives

While often digital manipulatives are easier, nothing can replace a good tactile activity. They provide an amazing opportunity for students to reflect on their thinking and learning as manipulatives are a natural for writing responses and reflection. They provide concrete objects for children to describe. Below you can see one examples on how teachers can bring hands-on manipulatives into the digital world to help better understand student thinking.

Student Example on Seesaw or Google Slides.
After students have used their manipulatives to solve their problem, students upload an image of their work onto Seesaw or Google Slides. Students then add audio to explain their thinking.

Template Example on Seesaw or Google Slides.

Are there other ways that you are bringing manipulatives into the classroom? Share with us below in the comments!