Featured Math

Number Lines: a Multipurpose Tool

May 9, 2017

I have to admit, by the end of each school year I have looked at number lines for so long that I am ready to swear them off for good. Over the years I have found so many ways to use a number line in my classroom- it seems like we can apply a number line strategy to any skill! The number line has become an essential tool in my classroom. My students have a number line on their name tags, in their math toolboxes, and one at home that they made to help them with homework. We also have so much fun making our own number lines for different skills throughout the year! 

Number Lines for Addition and Subtraction

This is probably the most well-known way to use a number line in an elementary classroom. Students can use their fingers to physically add and subtract numbers. This tactile and visual tool helps them to understand the process of adding and taking away. There are also number lines with intervals of 2, 3, 4, etc. that are created to aid in skip counting. These are wonderful tools for primary level math students. Bonus: skip counting number lines are GREAT for multiplication table practice!

Number Lines for Fractions

Fractions make up a large part of the third grade math curriculum. Under the umbrella of fractions, we teach comparing fractions and finding equivalent fractions. This is a great opportunity to break out those number lines again! In addition to fraction tiles, fraction circles, and other hands-on materials, number lines provide a clear example of how different fractions compare.

Number Lines for Elapsed Time

If you’re like me, just thinking about teaching elapsed time is enough to make you want to run screaming from your classroom. It is by far my least favorite math skill in 3rd grade. I search each year for new ways to teach it, and using a number line can be a helpful tool for students who need to see the breakdown of hours and minutes in equal groups, as shown below. Many students are starting at just being able to tell time on a clock, and using a number line is a great way for them to understand the concept of elapsed time.

Number Lines for Rounding

My class had a particularly hard time with rounding at the beginning of this year. Cue the number line! We worked with both straight and curved number lines so that they could “see the rounding” and make sense of it. We used paper number lines, but we also made some out of jump ropes and clothespins, adding a physical movement element to our rounding lessons. One of their favorites: making “roads”- number lines on sentence strips- then using toy cars to show the rounding. To do this, make a hill out of your sentence strip, with the midpoint being the tip of the hill, then you place the car on the number you’re rounding and let go. Whichever side it rolls down on is the number it rounds to.

The number line can be applied to almost any skill! There are countless resources online about using number lines to teach math concepts. How do you use number lines in your classroom?

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