Instructional Strategies — Large Numbers

Home » Instructional Strategies — Large Numbers

The current Gross Domestic Product of the world in 2017 is about $75 trillion.  There are about 3 billion people in China.  The population of the U.S. is about 300 million.  What goes through your mind when you read those numbers?

It is very difficult for many students (and many of us who read the newspapers every day) to understand large numbers and to appreciate their relative “bigness.”

Here is one exercise you can do with students to help illustrate the relationships between large numbers and their relative size.  This type of instructional strategy takes advantage of the power of an analogy.

All that is needed for this are paper and pencils/pens.

As your students to draw a line on their paper about four inches long.  Label the left end “One Million Dollars.”  Label the right end “One Billion Dollars.”  It should look something like this.


Now, ask the students to make a mark on the line indicating where One Billion Dollars would fall.

You can have the students compare their answers and explain (argue) about their answers.  Then you can show them the correct answer, which would look something like this.

Yes, the marker would be right next to the One Million Dollars End.  Think about the fact that One Trillion is One Thousand times One Billion.  So one thousand billions would have to fit on that line!