Number lines can work wonders for helping students understand patterns and how numbers are arranged. Quick and simple number line activities can also help busy teachers prepare quality lessons in a jiffy!
Comparing numbers and using the Greater Than, Less Than, or Equal To signs are often eye-openers for teachers in lower grades. But, upper elementary teachers are often super surprised to learn that their students are struggling with basic number concepts.
When I notice students struggling to order numbers or identify the greater number, I know it’s time to work with interactive number lines. And, in this case, I believe the BIGGER the number line, the better! I’m talking LARGE-sized, LIFE-sized number lines! Right there on the classroom floor!
In my classroom, I typically leave one or two number lines set up all year. I don’t use anything fancy to make it – simple masking tape on the floor works wonderfully. Simple and easy are usually best.
Making hash marks on the number line is optional. Currently, I have an open number line (without tick marks) and a closed number line (with tick marks) set up and always ready for use. Open number lines allow students a bit more freedom to experiment and draw their own conclusions. But some students benefit from the tick marks because they add some structure and make the number line more concrete and easier to visualize for beginners or strugglers.
Once you’ve decided on a number line, you need to make number cards. In the past, I’ve used Post-It Notes, wood craft sticks, and index cards. They all work fine.
Post-It Notes are great for the short term and can be made in different colored sets to keep stations organized. Unfortunately, Post-It Notes usually have a short life; they are easily ripped and bent, and they’re pretty tough to store long-term.
Wooden craft sticks are great for long term, and they’re easy to store. The negatives are that they’re relatively small, which makes them difficult to write on (permanent markers required), and they’re more expensive than the other options.
Index cards are easy to make, relatively inexpensive, and can be found in a variety of colors – if you look around or order online. I cut mine in half. They’re also easy to store – paper clips and rubber bands work great.
Differentiation is simple using either the open or closed number line, and the numbers that you assign your students can be as simple as 1 – 10, or larger numbers reaching into the thousands.
Students love working with these are number lines. They’re great for sequencing numbers, working out greater than/less than problems, and showing adding and subtraction strategies. I am a firm believer that number lines help students really gain a deeper understanding of rounding – students can actually see and manipulate their number cards or sticks to see the WHY behind rounding.
My struggling students enjoy quizzing each other by making some number cards and leaving some empty cards on the number lines. They challenge their classmates to fill in the missing numbers. I like to use this as a station, indoor recess game, and sometimes they play before school starts.
Another game my students enjoy playing a Mystery Number Guessing Game. It’s a game many students can play with a partner, although I’ve had groups of 3, with one student being a referee.
Rules: Player A chooses a number and keeps it secret. The Player B must ask questions requiring only a yes or no answer. By asking the right questions, and using the number line, students narrow down the numbers that could be the chosen mystery number, until finally, Player B is able to identify the mystery number.
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You can choose the number of incorrect guesses students are permitted. Depending on the student, you can allow one, two, or three guesses before the game is over. If Player B succeeds in guessing the correct number, he wins. If he guesses incorrectly after the number of agreed upon guess, the Player A wins.
You may want to promote the game as a team game that both players are winners when the Mystery Number is guessed correctly. Please leave a comment and let me know how you use number lines in your classroom!