Published 11th November 2015
When we think about teaching numbers in the TEFL classroom, you probably think about teaching the numbers 1 to 100. In fact, learning numbers is more complicated than we usually think. While numbers themselves are not difficult, what can be challenging is the way we naturally talk about numbers outside the EFL classroom. Basically, there are many instances when we talk about numbers without using the actual numbers, but instead we talk around them. So it’s important for our EFL learners to not only be able to recognise and use numbers themselves, but also be familiar with any language related to using numbers.
Why are numbers important for EFL learners?
Numbers are everywhere. We use numbers in times, phone numbers, addresses, costs, weights, distances, speeds – the list is endless. For our EFL learners, learning numbers means being able to say the number and also to be able to recognise the number when it is heard or when it is said or seen. Because the use of numbers is so widespread in our daily lives, being able to use numbers is a fundamental part of being able to speak a language. Just think about how many times you use a number in your daily life and you’ll realise how important numbers can be.
How do I teach numbers in the EFL classroom?
Start with the basics – whole numbers. Focus on the pronunciation of the numbers and ensure comprehension with visual aids. Then you can let your learners practise the numbers by using games. Bingo, Chinese whispers and chain games are all fun ways to practise the pronunciation of numbers. These are especially useful to deal with the common problem of the pronunciation of teen (nineteen) and ty (ninety).
Once the basic numbers are familiar, it’s time to move on to more complex numbers: fractions, percentages, negative numbers and very high numbers. A quiz is a good way for students to practise such numbers. You can find many quizzes relating to numbers in coursebooks or online. By using number relating to factual information, you increase the level of interest in the topic.
More complex language
When your students have got to grips with complex numbers, focus on language related to numbers. It is useful to be able to refer to numbers in both a general and a specific sense, yet often students are at a loss as to how to do this. One activity which works well for this language is to come up with a set of questions with impossible answers – such as, How much does Tom Cruise earn? How far away do you live from school? Your students will struggle to explain the answer because they won’t be able to use an exact number, so they will be forced to use other language.
Numbers can be a fun topic for your students, just remember that teaching numbers is more than teaching numerals.