Number Lines and Rounding

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

I get requests from many teachers to help with instructional strategies regarding rounding, so I am happy to share my thoughts (and freebies) with you. Difficulty with rounding usually means students lack number sense. The essential goal of rounding is: Can you name a benchmark number (whole, tens, hundreds, thousands, tenths, hundredths, etc.) that a given number is closer to? I have found the more experience a student has with number lines, the better they will be with number sense, and the better they are with rounding to the nearest ___.  Then this rounding practice must be applied to real world problems to estimate sums, differences, products, or quotients.

When doing a google search for tips on rounding (ie Pinterest), you very often find an assortment of rhymes (such as “5 or more let it soar, 4 or less let it rest”) and graphics showing underlining of digits and arrows pointing to other digits. These steps are supposed to help children think about how to change (or round) a number to one with a zero. Many students can recite the rhyme, but then misunderstand the intent, often applying the steps to the wrong digit, showing they really don’t have number sense but are just trying to follow steps.

My answer (and that of other math specialists) is teaching students how to place any number on a number line, and then determining which benchmark number it is closest to. Continue reading to see examples and get some free activities.

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