Missing the Point

Teaching decimals to young students can be tricky. Learning them can be even trickier.

I have spent years teaching this concept to upper-elementary students. At first, I would grimace at the thought of starting the decimals unit. Through trial and error, however, I found an easier path to teaching this concept to mastery. It begins with the very first day when the teacher introduces decimals…it begins with missing the “point.”

Read the following sentence aloud to yourself: “Shannon went to the bakery and bought two cakes for $13.85.” Now, read that amount again. Did you ever say the word point? Why not?

We don’t read the word point in the dollar amount; instead, we read and say the word and. Thirteen dollars and eighty-five cents. Think about it: why do we use the word and instead of point?

The same rule needs to apply to all numbers that contain decimals. IT IS TIME TO LOSE THE POINT!

When we use the word “point,” the numbers after the decimal lose their meaning. For example, 13.85 is commonly read aloud as “thirteen point eight five.” This is true (because it is historically common), but what value does the eight or the five have? More importantly, can your students explain their values?

If we take out point and substitute it with and, we get a value. Now, “thirteen point eight five” becomes “thirteen and eighty-five hundredths.” Ahhh, so thirteen is the whole number, and I now have eighty-five hundredths of another whole.

While reading decimals this way may seem like more work and challenging at first, believe me, it will make application of decimals much easier in the long-run. Consider this: what do we expect students to master when it comes to decimals? Usually our list starts off with comprehending place value significance, comparisons, adding, subtracting, etc. Later down the road, you’ll want students to know conversion of decimals to fractions. If we teach students to read decimals CORRECTLY from the get-go, they will have much simpler tasks ahead of them.


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