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Place Value: Reading Large Numbers

Would your kiddos have a hard time reading the number 205,017,300? But why? The biggest number you ever have to read is a 3-digit number! My kiddos never believe me when I tell them that, so I have to prove it to them.

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Our numbers are divided into 3-digit groups called periods. The periods are separated by commas. Each comma has its own name: thousand, million, billion, etc. If you can read a 3-digit number, and you know the comma names, you can read ANY number!

Start by writing a 3-digit number on the board: 205
Have the students read the number: two hundred five (remember, there is no andย when reading numbers)
Add three leading digits and a comma: 127,205
Tell students that the comma has a name, thousand.
Cup your hands around the 127 and have students read it, point to the comma and have them say its name (thousand), cup your hands around the 205 and have them read it. Repeat several times with the same number–remember to cup your hands and point to the comma so they make that connection.
Add three more leading digits and a comma: 400,127,205
Ask students if they know this comma’s name (million).
Have the kids read the number by chunking it up: 3-digits, comma name, 3-digits, comma name, 3-digits

That’s all there is to it! It’s fun to take them on to bigger and bigger numbers. After trillion, I usually tell them to research the rest of the period names and come back and share with the class.

One note, this process will definitely help kids be successful reading and writing larger numbers, but it doesn’t mean they understand them. That’s a totally different story. Kids need lots of experience understanding the magnitude of larger numbers. Here are several good books:

Download this handy place value helper chart and have your kids keep it handy. There are three different versions: thousands, millions, and billions. Notice how the charts highlight the patterns and comma names with color. Remember, place value is all about patterns!

FREE place value charts

Download a file with all of the place value charts here.

Check out this post for an easy place value game for 3-, 4-, 6-, or 9-digits that you can download for free.

Easy 3- or 4-digit place value game

And here’s one more place value post with a FREE choice board for working with large numbers.

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  1. I am so glad I found this post! I am teaching 6th grade, but I love to use picture books. I think I’m going to grab these for my Daily 5 Read to Someone. One of my favorite authors, and one of my favorite illustrators along with math instruction during reading time… I can’t go wrong!

    1. I love that you still use picture books with your older kids. Heck, I like picture books, so you’re NEVER too old. Ha ha.

    1. I had an interesting Facebook conversation with an Aussie reader today, and apparently they DO say “and”. They say “point” for the decimal point. I didn’t realize that was not international. Learn something new every day!

    2. I homeschool and all the books we’ve ever used did not use “and” so I don’t use it either. Nice freebie. I was making up one for my kids and stumbled across this one.

  2. These charts are FANTASTIC!! I stumbled upon your blog as I was searching for place value activities. I love how you explain to the kids that they are really only reading a 3-digit number. I am definitely sharing this with my teamies.

  3. I teach it the same way you do with one addition. One of my colleagues in Florida introduced me to the talking comma. It is called the talking comma because it says its name. When she would read large numbers, she would use an exaggerated voice to say the word Thousand or Million. I use it every year with my kids now and they love to say their numbers with the talking comma.

  4. I teach it the same way too. In fact I’m working on an activity that practices this exact skill. Can’t wait to share it with you. When my kiddos add an and in when reading whole numbers I tell them they have THE DREADED AND DISEASE. We all giggle and they try it again. Sometime it takes them three or four tries before they say it smoothly. I then declare them CURED. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. This is very similar to how I teach place value, but slightly different than I normally explain it. I do like the idea of calling the commas thousands and millions etc. I also like the idea of cupping the number. I will definitely add this to my explanations for place value. Thanks

    1. Thanks for the feedback! You can look for Place Value under Labels off to the right of this post to find additional posts about the subject.

  6. Just getting ready to start place value with my 2nd graders today! Perfect timing for this post! Definitely going to use this! Thanks!

  7. Thank you so much!! I had absolutely NO IDEA how to go about teaching my kids to read numbers correctly. You saved me ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Totally awesome resource, thanks!! I was just thinking I needed to make one of these tonight (and it was going to be color coded, just like yours) and now I don’t have to. Sweet!

  9. This is such a great resource for reinforcing the concepts of place value. Thank you so much for sharing your creativity and sensible approach.

  10. Cathy from PA,
    I use the Hybrid teaching approach in my classroom and this would be great to use in my collaborative group. Thank you for sharing!

  11. This is great! I could not figure out how to help my son understand how to actually say a large number. He understood the place values but just couldn’t remember how to actually say the whole number. This made it so easy for both of us! Thank you!

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