by Chris Elvin

Ability / Age: upper beginner - intermediate; 15 and older

Preparation time: none

Activity time: twenty minutes to half an hour

Objectives: listening and speaking practice of large numbers


Many of my high school students have initial problems with aural comprehension of large numbers. In part, this is because processing such numbers in real time requires sustained concentration, and also, in some cases, because of negative interference from students' L1 belief systems about how numbers are represented. I have found that a grid is a simple but effective way of eliminating interference and helping students focus their attention more productively.


On the chalkboard I draw the grid:




..... ..... ..... ,


..... ..... ..... ,


..... ..... .....

Then I show my students, for example, how easy it is to transcribe " two million, two thousand and two" if one writes the number "2" in each box, leaving the zeros to be written later.
Some students like to work with an alternative grid:


..... ..... ..... million ,


..... ..... ..... thousand ,


..... ..... .....

while others are happy to use two vertical lines drawn on their page. These strategies may seem a little trivial, perhaps, but many of my students have no strategy at all until they are presented with one. The important thing is that if a student cannot transcribe large numbers without a strategy, then she probably needs one.
I also insist on the use of commas. This is the convention, it makes for easier reading, and it allows students to lock in numbers before the comma to concentrate on the numbers that follow (another effective strategy).
After many more examples, and when I am convinced my students are ready, I hand out the pair worksheets (see my website at the address listed below). The numbers are perhaps a little strange, you may think, but my young learners find the activity both challenging and fun. If they can do it, they can usually cope with any number dictation.
If you don't want to make your own worksheets, please feel free to use mine. They can be downloaded from the resource box "room" of my website, EFL Club, at <www.eflclub.com>. The exact address is <http://www.eflclub.com/9resourcebox/levels/level3a/062numberpractice.pdf>.

Return to http://www.eflclub.com/elvin.html .