Developing Number Fluency

If one thing baffles me, (and I’ve been told that number is a low estimate), it is the difficulty that my EFL students here in Japan have when dealing with large numbers. Even among my advanced classes I rarely come across someone who can easily read numbers greater than 10,000. Simply reading and writing numbers in English should not be difficult. After all, if you can count to 100 you only need to learn 4 more words to get into the trillions, which is as high as most of us really need to go. I assume that a lack of practice is holding people back. So, how to get people to say lots of big numbers in a meaningful way without getting bored…hmm…

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a geography geek. At the age of 8, for no apparent reason, I began drawing fully labeled maps of Australia from memory; borders, states, capitals, seas, bights, Mt Kosciusko, everything. I’m Canadian. Never been Down Under. Not big on kangaroos. My grade 2 teacher was amused (or possibly concerned). Of course I realize that perhaps not everyone shares this passion, but I have always been surprised by the lack (at least among my friends) of even a rudimentary feel for where things are on the map. Is it even useful to develop such spatial skills? Everyone I know seems to get by just fine not knowing that the highest point in Maldives is 2.4 meters, or that Russia borders North Korea, or that Nambia is not even a word, let alone a country. I would suggest that, yes it is indeed useful, at least for those of us who want to understand and have a positive impact on the world.

After years of growing concern at this state of affairs, I decided that something had to be done. I decided that, for my school at least, everyone would learn a little about every country on the planet. Remembering that I was still looking for ways to encourage large number practice, I developed a series of compelling card games that develop both of these skills.

Here’s what we do at my school from about age 9. First, to learn the English names of countries and to practice good pronunciation we play The Holiday Game. Next, for extensive question practice and number reading we play War. Finally, after students have developed familiarity with the various geographical data presented, we play the strategy game Link. I’ll briefly describe the games below.

Continue reading at Compelling Games