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How to Teach Open Number Lines

How to Teach Open Number Lines

Hey friends! Today I want to share with you a few super easy, quick and efficient ideas for teaching students how to order numbers on an open number line.

Why are open number lines important?

An open number line is a line that has no intervals or numbers. The concept of an open number line allows students to control or zoom in on a small piece of the number line. By placing numbers on an open number line, students are able to physically see how the numbers compare with one another. This is very important for our young learners because they will be using these concepts for mental math later on. 

Whole Group Mini-Lesson

Before students can fully understand open number lines, I wanted to make sure we had a good grasp on a regular number line. I gave each student a sticky note and had them each write a number 1-22 on it (I have 22 students, so your numbers may vary). I used tape on butcher paper to create our “number line”. One by one, I had students come up and place their numbers on the number line.
As you can see, we did not go in order and I did this on purpose. I wanted to see which students understood the concept of spacing before I taught… call it a pre-assessment. Of course we had to do a few adjustments, but that's part of learning.
After our number line 1-22 was built, I wrote three numbers on sticky notes and distributed them to three different students. I THOUGHT it would be super easy because they had the top number line to guide them, BUT you would be surprised that some of my sweet firsties had not yet made that connection. It made me super glad that we started with this activity!

Independent Practice

Next, we went on to independent practice at our desk. I had students draw a line all of the way across their desk. I told them to imagine the left side of their desk was 1 and the right side of their desk was 20. I called out three different numbers and we practiced placing them on our number line. Of course the spacing was way off for some of them, but the numbers were in order and hey, it was only day one. We practiced this activity for several days and even offered to let students practice it during their free time which they LOVED!

Station Fun

You will need:
-large popsicle sticks
*I chose the colored popsicle sticks so that I could color code and match the numbers on the clothespins but it's totally up to you!

How it works

Step 1: Give students one popsicle stick and three numbers
Step 2: Students place the smallest numbers at the top of the popsicle stick and the bigger numbers towards the bottom.
Step 3: Once students have the numbers in order, you can then start talking to them about spacing the numbers appropriately.

Want to make a self-check option? Write the numbers in the correct order with the correct spacing on the back of the popsicle stick!

Need time-saving stations?

Check out these math stations that include ordering numbers on an open number line!

How to Teach Open Number Lines

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Kristen Sullins

Kristen Sullins

I am a current Elementary Librarian and
Enrichment Teacher, mother of two, follower of Christ and Texas native. In my own classroom, I love to save time by finding unique ways to integrate writing, social studies and science into all parts of my day. I also love all things organization!