Teaching Math with Movement

Our year is off to a great start!  Even though I feel a bit rusty with my math teaching skills, my students are (so far) really interested in learning and I’m seeing progress already.

We began this year with place value.  Our 4th graders are expected to read, write, and understand numbers through 999,999,999.  In 3rd grade, they are only expected to go up to 999,999.  For many students, the transition to millions is very simple, but for others, it’s a nightmare!  Seeing that many numbers all squished together makes them cringe.

I’m lucky enough to have in-class support from one of the best Special Education teachers I know.  Today she gave me an idea about using some simple movements to make this place value concept more concrete.  Boy, am I thankful, too!  This one, simple little trick made a WORLD of difference in the understanding today.  Curious yet?  Good.  I’ll let you in on this little “secret.”

Total Physical Response.  This is a term that has been thrown around quite a bit, but I just seem to forget about it at times.  TPR is basically putting movement to words to make certain concepts more concrete for kids.  When we talked about place value, we discussed how each set of numbers (hundreds, thousands, millions…) is read in groups of 3.  I told the kids that if they can read a simple 3-digit number, that they should be able to read any number, as long as they remember the “family” where each group of digits belongs.  When we see a comma in a set of numbers, it represents a family (hundreds, thousands, etc.).  When we see the comma, we make a large gesture with our hands like a comma in the air while saying the family name.  Then when we get to the last set (hundreds), we make a signal like “safe” in baseball so that the students know not to actually say that family name.

Here is an example for 789,646,210:

789 (big comma gesture while saying, “Million”), 646 (big comma gesture while saying, “Thousand”), 210 (“safe” gesture).

After doing this, 100% of my students actually understand how to read those numbers.  No longer are they saying those wacky numbers.  It’s amazing what a small gesture like this can do for struggling learners (and those that think they already know it all!).  Try it–you WILL see a difference!!  😉

Is there something that you do to make your students understand this concept even better?  If so, I would LOVE to hear your suggestions!

I’m hoping to be able to post more freebies over the weekend, as well as more pictures of great things that are happening in my classroom.  Stay tuned for more!



  1. Thank you very much! I can’t wait to do this tomorrow!

  2. I love this idea! My fifth graders need to understand place value into the billions, so this will help!

  3. Great tip. We seem to have abandoned the comma in Australia and just leave a space between the number families but I can see that this idea would still work…..see the space, make a signal. Thank you.


Speak Your Mind