Teaching Elementary Decimals and Tenths: Lessons and Methods

Decimals are frequently given a bad rap because students often have a difficult time learning them. However, if you begin by reviewing fractions and place value, your child will be better prepared to tackle decimal numbers. Use the following suggestions for teaching decimals and tenths at home.

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Teaching Decimals to Your Elementary Child


Before introducing decimals, do a review of fractions. The main thing your child needs to know about fractions before tackling decimals is that fractions represent part of a whole. If a whole pizza is divided into six equal slices, and you eat two of them, you ate two out of six, or two-sixths. Written as a fraction, that is 2/6. There are four pieces out of six remaining, or 4/6.

Once your child understands this concept, use it to teach decimals and decimal places. For example, show him or her that 1/10 and 0.1 represent the same number.

Place Value

Next, review place value. Starting at the far right of a whole number, the first place is the ones (or unit) place. Next comes tens, then hundreds. In the thousands group, you have one thousands, ten thousands and hundred thousands places.

Make sure your child can read a number such as 4,321 like this: 'four thousand, three hundred twenty-one.' Point out that every whole number has a decimal point after it - we just don't write it unless we need to also include a part of the whole.

Place values begin on either side of the decimal point and move away from it. Therefore, place values for whole numbers move to the left away from the decimal point; place values for decimals move away from the decimal point to the right. The place values are just the same for decimals as for whole numbers except that they have a -th at the end. For instance, the first three decimal place values are tenth, hundredth and thousandth.


For this game, you will need more than one player, so participate with your child or find other family members to play. Give each player a card with a number on it. One player has a card with the decimal point, which is read as 'and.' Give each player a number, like 4.15, for example. Then, the players have to arrange themselves in the correct order to make that number. Have your child read the number out loud for extra practice.


One way to help your child visualize decimals is to use a grid. To teach tenths, draw ten vertical bars that are ten units high on graph paper. Show that one bar is one out of ten, or 0.1 or 1/10. If your child colors in four bars, then he or she can see there is 0.4 or 4/10 of the bars colored in.

Other Resources

On the Internet, you will find interactive games and worksheets that give immediate feedback. You can also find a number of songs for teaching about decimals. Alternatively, search your local library or bookstore for books about decimals.

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