Reading Big Numbers – How to Teach It

Reading big numbers in your classroom? Make it easy! Just tackle periods first.

reading large numbers

Ms. Sneed Teaches Reading Big Numbers

Our favorite fourth grade teacher stood in front of her class. “Over the past few days,” she said, “we’ve explored the values of digits in bigger numbers. Today, we’ll continue learning about place value,” she said. “Specifically, we’ll work on reading big numbers.”

“Will we need our place value charts today?” a voice called out.

“No. For this lesson, we won’t write anything.”

She pointed to the anchor chart displayed on the screen. “We all know how to read numbers to the hundreds. For example, for 6-1-4, we say six hundred fourteen. Surprisingly, as for bigger numbers, it’s just as easy.”

The Importance of Periods

“When reading large numbers, you just need to know about periods. Each is made of three digits, and commas separate them. The ones period – the one you’re most familiar with – is located here to the far right of a whole number, just before the decimal point.

“Next to that, you’ll find the thousands period. Then the millions.”

“And then the billions!” someone shouted out.

“Trillions! Quadrillions!” rang out.

Ms. Sneed smiled. “You’re right. If you’re interested in more period names, I’ll download a list later.”

Faintly, she heard someone whisper, “Google.”

Say the Period Name When You See the Comma

Once again, the teacher pointed at the screen. “At the bottom of this anchor chart, you see 6-1-4, or six hundred fourteen, in three different periods. Each time you see it, you read it. Then, when you come to a comma, you say the period name.

“Try it with me.”

Ms. Sneed pointed to the words at the bottom of the page and pointed as the class read in chorus: “Six hundred fourteen million, six hundred fourteen thousand, six hundred fourteen.

As she looked out over her class, she noted the comfort on their faces. “See?” she said. “Reading big numbers is easy!”

When reading big numbers, chunk them in periods.
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Practice Makes Perfect When Reading Big Numbers

Next, Ms. Sneed grabbed a stack of worksheets from her desk. As she distributed them, she gave directions. “We’ll read these numbers aloud. Each person will have a turn. Today, you will read numbers to one million. But if you really like it, we can move to a sheet to one billion tomorrow.”

Several kids bounced up and down in their seats and smiled. Yes, she had some takers.

“We’ll start in the front corner of the room with you, Brett. Then we’ll snake around the room.”

After she nodded at Brett, he began slowly. For 384,185, he said, “three hundred and eighty-four thousand, one hundred and eighty-five.”

“Great job, Brett. Unfortunately, I forgot to remind you. The only time we say and in a number is at the decimal point. Can you say it again without ands?”

This time, Brett spoke with more confidence. “Three hundred eighty-four thousand, one hundred eighty-five.”

“Fantastic! Now it’s your turn, Marissa.”

As each student read a big number, confidence in the room grew. Surprisingly, they actively listened as the others spoke.

After the last student presented, Ms. Sneed distributed another sheet. “Wow, you all did such a great job. However, as we know, practice makes perfect. Please take this sheet home and read them aloud to another person in your home. The page I’m giving you now has the answers in word form. That way, the other person can look at the words as you read.”

Reading big numbers takes practice. Ask kids to read aloud in your classroom and then again for homework.

As the students packed their papers in their take-home folders, that famous teacher smile spread across her face. Another successful (and short!) fourth grade math lesson in the books.

Her students were proficient at reading big numbers. Now they were ready to write numbers in standard form and words. Then they’d move on to expanded form, as well as rounding and comparing numbers. Bit by bit, they’d master place value for multi-digit numbers.

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