Teaching students the Chinese method of maths education or reducing the fear of making mistakes, there are no shortage of options to try and improve standards in maths. One option is to use manipulatives as a teaching aid. These are physical objects that help to explain a mathematical concept. Most people will be familiar with using coins to teach probability, this is just one example of a manipulative. Many more are available; using them helps to stimulate young minds and improve learning outcomes in maths.

Guide to Manipulatives

Find this helpful guide to using manipulatives in maths on the Third Space Learning website by following the link.

The Ultimate Hands On Guide to Maths Manipulatives

This list of 15 manipulatives shows you the pros and cons in using each manipulative to decide one(s) to use. It also provides helpful practical advice such as which age groups each manipulative would be suitable for and where you can buy them. With prices starting from £1 and others in the region of £3-5 per set is not an expensive addition to the maths cupboard.

What I particularly like about this resource are the links to other sites which suggest how each manipulative can be used. Like many things in education, I believe it isn’t the resource you use but how you use it that makes the difference.

Most manipulative are used in KS1 and KS2 but dice, dominoes and cards can be used for older students. It just depends on what is being taught. I have seen manipulatives used with older students but they are usually aimed at novice learners. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used, it just needs a little more imagination. Use Geoboards, for example, to teach area and perimeter, algebra and Pythagoras.


Manipulative: Geoboard.

Do they work?

So maybe I have made some assumptions here. Do manipulatives really help student learn maths? Are they engaging or just another fad that will come and go like many before? A quick search in the academic literature should help answer some of these questions. Much of the research seems to suggest that manipulatives enhance student attitudes, participation, and performance. (Chester, 1991; Ernest, 1994) However this is not all findings are conclusive as some see no difference. (Hudson Hawkins, 2007) Teachers should be aware that students do not always come to the conclusions they hope they will. (Ball, 1992) This suggests that when using manipulatives, it is important to explicitly explain what is being shown and how it relates to mathematics. Just allowing students to play and explore with these toys may not result in tangible improvements.

Its up to you.

Really the best thing to do is try a manipulative in your classroom and see for yourself if it works. To get the most out of each activity read the information found in the links from the Ultimate Hands On Guide to Maths Manipulatives and let others know how it went. As always good to hear feedback on this and other resources found on TopTenTeacher.



Ball, D. L. (1992). Magical Hopes: Manipulatives and the Reform of Math Education. American Educator: The Professional Journal of the American Federation of Teachers, 16 (2).

Chester, J. (1991). Math Manipulatives Use and Math Achievement of Third-Grade Students.

Ernest, P. S. (1994). Evaluation of the Effectiveness and Implementation of a Math Manipulatives Project University of Montevallo. Retrieved from

Hudson Hawkins, V. (2007). The effects of math manipulatives on student achievement in mathematics.



This post was sponsored by Third Space Learning but not influenced by them in any way. As with all posts views represent those of TopTenTeacher.

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