That worked a little bit. A few more kids were starting to be able to put the pattern into words. But what really seemed to be the "aha" moment was to relate it to one of their favorite things...money!
When I got out the Monopoly money and they could see that Ben had $6, Jacob had $60, and Caleb had $600, they started to see the real significance of place value. Students could finally begin articulating clearly how changing the position of a digit in the number, significantly changes the value of the number. I pretended that we had earned this much money at a car wash. I told them that I would keep Caleb's 6 and they could have Jacob's 6. I asked...is this fair? Suddenly, they could all VERY articulately explain the importance of place value. They were able to tell me that no way was this fair because the Caleb's 6 is worth ten times the amount of Jacob's 6.
I have to give credit to Jack, whose fascination with money sparked the idea in the first place. Thanks Jack!