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