Why is this skill important?

It is commonly thought that, if a child can say a number, and they have no problem writing their numerals, then naturally they will be able to write the spoken number.  Unfortunately this is far from the case. Children can commonly say the number ‘one thousand and one, and will nevertheless write it as 10001 or ten thousand and one. This is because they write 1000 and then add a ‘1’ on the end. Younger children make the same error when writing 101, when they often write it as 1001.

This means that we have to ensure that when children are saying a number, they are also able to write it and to read it correctly. Mistakes in both writing and reading numbers indicate that children have not yet developed a robust understanding of place value or how the number system works (see Number : Place value). This is very serious as this understanding underpins ALL the calculation and mathematics that children will study and need to be able to do as they move into the upper juniors.

What is the skill?

Reading numbers depends on understanding that each digit represents a different value – so that in 222, the first digit represents 200, the second digit represents 20 and the last digit represents 2.  It follows that the first digit is 100 times larger than the last digit in a three digit number. The same relationship between the digits applies no matter how large the number is.  Understanding this is the key to both reading and writing numbers, as well as to being fluent in counting on and back.

Reading or writing numbers correctly often depends upon recognising that it is the place in the number occupied by a particular digit that gives it the value it has. So that two thousand and four cannot be written as 24 nor as 20004. There are 2 thousands, no hundreds, no tens and four ones or units. The two zeros in the number are what we call ‘place holders’. They hold the place for the hundreds and the tens digits which are not required in this number. 2004.

So how is this skill taught?

Although English is not a particularly helpful language when it comes to number names – seventeen hardly explains itself in the way that sixty-two does – nevertheless, it often helps to articulate numbers really clearly when trying to write them. So saying ‘four thousand, six hundred and twenty-five’ helps us to see what to write in each place in the number. We write ‘4’ in the thousands, ‘6’ in the hundreds, ‘2’ in the tens and ‘5’ in the ones, making 4625.

The problem comes when one or more of the digits is represented by a zero as a place holder, as in 2004. So children need to be thinking carefully about the value of each digit in the number we are writing. We cannot write 306 as 36 because the ‘3’ wouldn’t be 300, it would be 30.

Reading numbers goes pear-shaped when adults allow children to read a number as a string of digits instead of making them articulate the value of each digit.

  • RIGHT – read 16,507 as sixteen thousand, five hundred and seven.
  • WRONG – read 16,507 as one, six, five, zero, seven.

Reading in the latter way does nothing to encourage children to think about the value of each digit and therefore does not help them as they learn to read and write even larger numbers. It is vital that we always read numbers ourselves in the mathematically correct fashion, even when these are small numbers, e.g. reading 431 as four hundred and thirty one and not as four three one.  Only if we read numbers in this way can children learn to write them correctly.

The main way to help children to read and write numbers correctly is to practise by saying a number to them very clearly and asking them to write it in numbers (not words). So if you say, ‘sixty-four thousand, four hundred and fifteen’, children can write the number as you say it. If they are really struggling with this, it helps to start with the tens and units/ones. So say the whole number, e.g. ‘sixty-four thousand, four hundred and fifteen’, and ask the children to focus on the two-digit number at the end and write this. 15. Then repeat the number again, and ask them to listen out for the hundreds and add this to the front of their number, i.e. ‘sixty-four thousand, four hundred and fifteen’, so they add’4’ to 15 getting 415.  Then you repeat the number again and stress the thousands, which they then add to the front of their number, 64,415.

It is excellent to repeat this process when helping children to read numbers. In reading 32,612, cover all except the last two digits. Children read the part they can see, ‘twelve’. Then uncover the third digit to reveal it. Children read that three-digit number, ‘six hundred and twelve’. Then uncover the last two digits and children read the whole number with the thousands, ‘thirty-two thousand, six hundred and twelve.

In this way, children learn to read the five-digit numbers by reading the part they understand well (the two-digit number), then adding the hundreds, then the thousands. This process also emphasises the thousands, hundreds, tens and ones place value aspects of the number.

Practise Together: These activities are intended to be shared. Read the Explanation of the skill being practised and then play the game or share the task. Watch out for the points highlighted in the Explanation and if necessary, help your child, following the advice in ‘How this skill is taught’ section. Shared activities are not only more fun – they enable you to actively support your child’s learning.

Explanation & Worksheets: Having practised a skill together using the shared activities, children can then rehearse the skill using the ‘Child alone’ sheets. These are presented in order of difficulty 1-5 and should only be given to the child AFTER the Practise Together activities. In this way you can be sure that the child has acquired this skill first. We cannot rehearse what something have not yet learned!

Test: Take a test, questions from this area

Counting in sequence: Count any sequence of numbers from 1 to 10,000 forward or back with confidence

Read & write numbers: Read and write the numbers 0-10,000

Place value: Understand that 4392 is made up of 4000 + 300 + 90 + 2 and that 4092 has no hundreds

Money: Begin to understand that £6.54 is six pounds and 54 pence and that £6.04 is six pounds and 4p while £6.40 is six pounds and 40p

Counting in tens & hundreds: Count in tens or hundreds forward and back from any number, e.g. 284, 294, 304, 314, etc. understanding how to cross a multiple of 10, 100 or 1000

Count multiples: Count in (add or subtract) multiples of 10, 100 or 1000 (800+300)

Writing fractions: Understand how fractions are written, e.g. ½ and ¾ and begin to realise that ½ is the same as 2/4 or 3/6 etc.

Number Concepts: Count in different ways, understand how numbers work, become fluent in the ways of numbers

Adding and Subtracting: Mentally add or subtract numbers with confidence and develop written ways of adding and subtracting larger numbers or more of them!

Multiplying and Dividing: Know the times tables and use these to perform mental multiplication and divisions; develop written methods for multiplication and division.

7-9: Lower Juniors

9-11: Upper Juniors