Math Background

Negative Numbers: Tips and Tricks

  • Draw a large number line and put it in a prominent place in the room for students to refer to throughout the unit.
  • Students may not have used a number line in a while, so it may be a good idea to have them do some operations with positive numbers first to refresh their memories.
  • Have the students make their own number lines to use when ordering negative numbers and when doing operations with negative numbers.
  • Whenever possible, provide real-world models of negative numbers, such as taking steps forward or back.
  • Students often become confused with the terms minus, negative, and opposite. Minus refers to the operation of subtraction. Negative is the sign of a number. The expression 5 − (-2) should be read as “5 minus negative 2.” Opposite is used to refer to the number that has the opposite sign. Hence, -2 is the opposite of +2, and +7 is the opposite of -7.
  • Students should justify their answers for operations with negative numbers by drawing a number line and indicating movement on it with arrows.
  • Give students a positive number or negative number and ask them to give you two numbers, one positive and one negative, whose sum is the given number. For example, given the number
  • -3, those two numbers could be -8 and +5. Do the same for subtraction.

Houghton Mifflin Math Grade 5