Teaching Big Numbers + Activities

In Japan, one of the biggest problems is that Japanese has one extra one. They have the word ‘man/万’, which represents 10,000. This can make it quite confusing for learners, as a lot of them them tend to want to use this number.

I find that when explaining it is easiest to go back to basics and explain what the comma in numbers means, and tell the learners that we read numbers in sets of threes, and we read this comma. I usually start small, then move bigger to illustrate this.

123 (one hundred twenty three)

1,234 (one THOUSAND two hundred thirty four)

12,345 (twelve THOUSAND three hundred forty five)

123,456 (one hundred twenty THOUSAND four hundred fifty six)

1,234,567(one MILLION two hundred thirty four THOUSAND five hundred sixty seven)

Sometimes you might also need to mention that if there aren’t any numbers before the comma, you don’t need to say anything.

10,000,000 (ten million)

I find this helps learner to not shut down when they see big numbers, and instead work through it logically. I usually just teach:

First comma – Thousand

Second comma – Million

Third comma – Billion

Sometimes I won’t go up that far, it makes learning numbers a lot more manageable.

Follow Up Activities

Board Relay 

Put students into teams and line them up in front of the board. Teacher says a number and the first students in each team have to write it down. The first person to write the number correctly gets a point for their team. Students go to the back of their line and the next students come forward.


Variation of the Timebomb game, but students use bigger numbers. Instead of counting up in from 1 to 21, they count up in sets of 500,000. So the class will count up from 500,000 and the bomb will go off at 10,500,000.

Maths Equations

Put the students in small groups of three to four, depending on class size. Each group will think of a maths equation, then take turns at reading the equation to the other groups. The first group to get the correct answer wins a point. If you are doing big numbers, it can be good to allow calculators.

For example, a group says 45,000,000 minus 12,456,789. The first group to get 32,543,211 as an answer gets a point. You can get them to put their hand up and say the answer, shout it out or write it on the board.

For more activities, do consider checking out the Take it Easy Teaching book and sharing this website. We really appreciate your support.


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