Tip 1: Label, Label, Label!
Label all of your manipulatives! This helps students clearly see what and where the item belongs. Simply put the name and picture of the manipulative on the outside of the tub or under the spot the shelf.
Here is how Math Teacher Leader, Amber Danhauser, 2nd grade teacher at Plain Elementary, labels her tubs of manipulatives.
Tip 2: Have a Manipulative Hospital
No matter how organized your classroom systems seem to be, it never fails that items break or little pieces cannot find their way back to where they belong. Make sure that you have a "Manipulative Hospital" for those misplaced and broken pieces. When pieces are found, they can be placed into this tub to be organized and replaced at a later time.
Tip 3. Let the manipulative fit the problem
Okay, this may sound basic, but it is important. Ask yourself, "What is the mathematical purpose of the manipulatives you want your students to use? What mathematical understanding am I building with these models?" Often times, students are required to use their base-ten blocks to solve a problem, but they have no idea how those blocks represent the base-ten system. The manipulative is not a math strategy, but it is something students can use to model their mathematical thinking. When you and your students are clear on the purpose, then you can decide if it should be pulled out for daily use or for a special problem.
Tip 4: Place manipulatives in a spot so they are readily available for student use
Math manipulatives help build conceptual understanding of mathematical concepts. They should be encouraged, although not forced, to be used regularly. Therefore, manipulatives should be placed in an area that is easy to access. This could be on shelves in the math area of the room, a cabinet that is designated for math, etc. Whereever this spot is located, ask yourself, "How quickly and efficiently can your students get their math materials and begin working?" Visualize your students. Are they bumping into each other, are they all grabbing frrom the same place? Plan your system so that these types of errors don't eat up precious instruction time.
How do you organize your math manipulatives? Comment below with your tips/ideas!