Place Value: Reading Large Numbers

Reading large numbers is a breeze!

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

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.

This post contains affiliate links, which simply means that when you use my link and purchase a product, I receive a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, and I only link to books and products that I personally use and recommend.

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 and 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:

    Literature for reading large numbers Literature for reading large numbers      Literature for reading large numbers      Literature for reading large numbers

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!

Download the hundred thousands chart, the hundred millions chart, and the hundred billions chart.

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

This flexible place value workstation activity is a great compliment to your place value unit!  Grab it for free. 🙂

38 Comments

  1. Jody Lynne

    Wow, this is a fabulous tool! Thanks so much for sharing =)

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      You’re welcome!

      Reply
  2. 2nd Grade Teacher

    Fantastic idea! I am going to share this with my fellow teachers! THANKS AGAIN!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Awesome. It’s a very helpful tool for the kiddos.

      Reply
  3. Karen Greenberg

    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!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      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.

      Reply
  4. Erika

    I drives me nuts when people put an “and” in a number! Thanks for the freebie.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      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!

      Reply
    • Sherrie

      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.

      Reply
  5. Melissa

    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.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      I love “teamies”! Yeah, it’s a fun lesson–the kids just think its magic.

      Reply
  6. Tina Moricz

    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.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Well, that’s pretty cool, Tina. Talking commas…I can see how the kiddos would like that.

      Reply
  7. Amy Griffith

    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. 😉

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      That’s cute! I actually grew up saying the “and”, so I had to retrain myself to leave it out!

      Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Once again you share something so amazing!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Thanks! I’m always glad to hear my posts are useful. 🙂

      Reply
  9. Mrs. Burger

    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

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      My pleasure!

      Reply
  10. Brandons Blog

    It would be nice of you if you share a link to other sources that carry info on this subject in case you know any of them.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      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.

      Reply
  11. Anonymous

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

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Hooray for perfect timing! 🙂

      Reply
  12. Cindy in Wisconsin

    Thanks for the great place value charts! What a help!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      You’re welcome, Cindy! 🙂

      Reply
  13. Anonymous

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

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Glad to be able to throw out a life preserver!!

      Reply
  14. Anonymous

    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!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Perfect!! Glad I saved you some time! 🙂

      Reply
  15. Cyndi-Lu

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

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      My pleasure, Cyndi-Lu! Place value is so important! 🙂

      Reply
  16. Jenn Miron

    Thanks so much – I start place value this week and I know that this will really help them with reading the numbers! I’m a follower of your store 🙂
    Jenn
    Doodling Around in 6th Grade

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      It’s a great strategy, Jenn! I know your kiddos will be successful with it. 🙂

      Reply
  17. Catherine

    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!

    Reply
  18. Ida Bagus Utta

    Awesome post, can i share it?

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Of course!

      Reply
  19. Sara

    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!

    Reply

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