The Importance of Teaching Decimals

Written by Dan

Decimals, including money management, measurement, and scientific computations, are crucial in everyday life. They help us express values with precision, vital in science, cooking, art, business, and computer programming.

As decimals are a transition to more advanced mathematical concepts, understanding and mastering them is essential for students to progress in their numerical education.

Introducing decimals to students can be challenging, as they require a firm grasp of place value and existing number systems. Fortunately, various educational resources and techniques help simplify teaching decimals.

Students can develop a strong foundation in decimals and their significance in daily life by utilising real-life examples like money, mathematical operations, and practical applications.

Key Takeaways

  • Decimals are vital in many aspects of life and provide a foundation for more advanced math concepts.
  • Effective teaching methods integrate real-life examples and place value on understanding.
  • Many educational resources are available to assist teachers in guiding students through decimals.

Understanding Decimals and Place Value

Basics of Decimals and Decimal Point

Decimals are a way to represent numbers that are not whole, allowing us to express values between two whole numbers. A decimal consists of two parts: a whole number part and a fractional part, separated by a decimal point.

For example, in the decimal number 12.34, the whole number part is 12 and the numbers represent the fractional part after the decimal point, 34.

Place Value: Tenths and Hundredths

In decimals, place value is crucial in understanding the value of each digit. Just like whole numbers have ones, tens, hundreds, places, decimals have tenths, hundredths, thousandths, and so on.

Each place to the right of the decimal point represents a fraction with a denominator that is a power of ten.

For example, the first place to the right of the decimal point is the tenths place, which represents the fraction 1/10. The second place to the right is the hundredths place, representing the fraction 1/100, and so on.

In the decimal 0.43, the digit 4 is in the tenths place and represents the value 4/10 or 0.4, while the digit 3 is in the hundredths place and represents the value 3/100 or 0.03.

Comparing Decimal Places

Comparing decimals is an essential skill for working with decimal numbers. To compare decimals, first ensure that they have the same number of decimal places.

If necessary, add zeros to the right of the decimal to equalize the number of places. For example, comparing 0.5 and 0.65 would require adding a zero to 0.5 to make it 0.50.

Once the decimal places are equal, compare the digits from left to right, starting at the tenths place.

In our example, 0.50 vs. 0.65, the digit in the tenths place for both numbers is the same: ‘5’. Since the digit in the hundredths place is ‘0’ for 0.50 and ‘5’ for 0.65, we can determine that 0.50 is smaller than 0.65.

Teaching decimals and place value effectively helps students gain a solid understanding and confidence in working with decimal numbers.

By focusing on the basics of decimals, tenths and hundredths, and comparing decimal places, students can build a strong foundation in mathematics and apply these skills to real-world scenarios.

Teaching Decimals through Money

Teaching decimals can be more engaging and effective by incorporating real-life examples and practical applications.

Money is a perfect context to teach decimals as it involves familiar concepts such as coins and monetary transactions. Using money allows students to understand how decimals work in everyday life.

Using Coins to Teach Tenths and Hundredths

Coins provide an excellent way to introduce and reinforce the concept of tenths and hundredths. For example:

  • 1 dime (10 cents) = 0.10; here, 1 is in the tenths place
  • 1 penny (1 cent) = 0.01; here, 1 is in the hundredths place

This real-world association helps students to grasp the concept more quickly and accurately. A hands-on activity with coins can be very beneficial for students to understand the decimal representation of money.

For example, teachers can present n number of dimes and pennies and ask students to find the total amount using decimal numbers.

Money and Decimal Calculations

In addition to representing decimals using coins, money can also be used to teach various decimal calculations. Some examples include:

  • Addition and subtraction: Students can practice solving problems that involve adding and subtracting decimals, such as calculating the total amount spent when purchasing multiple items or finding the change due after purchasing with a given amount.
  • Multiplication and division: Money can also teach multiplication and division of decimals. For instance, you are calculating the total cost of buying multiple items at a discounted rate, or finding out the original price of a discounted item.
  • Comparing and ordering decimals: Money provides a context for ordering decimals since we often deal with prices. Students can compare the prices of different items and learn to order decimals correctly, which is a fundamental skill in handling money.

Teaching decimals through money is practical and helps students grasp the relationship between decimals and fractions as they learn to convert prices to decimal numbers and vice versa.

Continuing on the previous examples, teachers can ask students to represent the cost of a dime (10 cents) as both a decimal (0.10) and as a fraction (10/100 or 1/10).

By integrating money into decimal lessons, students can better understand and appreciate decimals in real-world situations. This approach can increase students’ engagement and motivation, laying a solid foundation for their future success in mathematics.

Mathematical Operations with Decimals

Adding and Subtracting Decimals

When teaching students how to perform addition and subtraction with decimals, it is essential to emphasize the importance of aligning decimal points.

This is a crucial concept for solving decimals problems; improper alignment may lead to inaccurate results.

For example, to add 12.3 and 4.56, one should write the numbers vertically, aligning the decimal points as follows:

+ 4.56

Then, fill in the blanks with zeros to make calculations easier:

+  4.56

Finally, add the numbers as if they were whole numbers and include the decimal point in the final answer:

+  4.56

The same principle applies when subtracting decimals.

Multiplying and Dividing Decimals

When teaching students to multiply decimals, it is essential to instruct them to multiply the numbers without considering the decimal points initially, as if they were whole numbers.

After calculating the product, the total number of decimal places in the factors must be added together. That sum will determine the number of decimal places in the final product.

For example, to multiply 3.2 by 1.5, multiply like whole numbers:


This results in a product of 480. Next, count the number of decimal places in the factors: 3.2 has one, and 1.5 has one as well. The sum is two, so the final product should have two decimal places:

3.2 × 1.5 = 4.80

When dividing decimals, move the decimal point in the divisor until a whole number is obtained. Then, move the decimal point in the dividend by the same number of places. Finally, divide the numbers as if they were whole numbers and place the decimal point in the quotient.

Rounding Decimals for Approximations

Teaching students rounding decimals can help them build estimation skills and simplify complex calculations. Rounding involves determining which whole number or decimal place value a given number is closest to, and adjusting it to that value.

This process helps with approximations and quickly estimates more complex operations.

To round a decimal number, identify the desired place value to round to (e.g., nearest whole number, tenth, or hundredth). Look at the digit immediately to the right of that place value.

If it is 5 or greater, increase the digit at the desired rounding place by one, and if it’s less than 5, leave the digit unchanged. Remove all digits after the rounding place.

For example, to round 3.276 to the nearest tenth, examine the hundredth’s digit (7):


Since 7 is greater than or equal to 5, round up, adjusting the tenths digit from 2 to 3:


In this case, 3.276 has been rounded to 3.3, providing a simpler value to work with during complex calculations.

Practical Applications of Decimals

Measurements and Decimal Usage

Decimals play a crucial role in various measurements, mainly when dealing with units like meters, liters, and grams. In the real world, precise measurements often require decimals to represent quantities accurately.

For example, an object’s length may be measured as 1.73 meters, which accurately represents a length between 1 and 2 meters.

When teaching decimals, it is essential to emphasize their importance in measurements by providing real-life examples and word problems.

A common technique is to use comparisons of different measurements, such as comparing the weight of two different objects (e.g., Item A weighs 1.24 kg, and Item B weighs 1.35 kg).

This helps students grasp the concept of decimals and their applications in a practical context.

Some helpful tools for teaching decimals in measurements include:

  • Place value charts
  • Rulers, measuring tapes, and digital scales
  • Exercises that incorporate various units of measurement (length, weight, volume)

Understanding Percentages and Decimals

Percentages are also closely related to decimals, as they are essentially fractions with a denominator of 100.

This relationship allows for easy conversion between percentages and decimals, which aids students in tackling problems that involve both forms.

To teach the connection between decimals and percentages, consider presenting them in a comparative format:

PercentageDecimal Equivalent

Emphasize the importance of this relationship by incorporating it into word problems that involve real-world situations, such as calculating discounts, sales tax, or determining the percentage of a larger quantity.

Using these techniques and focusing on practical applications, students can develop a solid understanding of decimals and their relevance in various aspects of life.

This foundation will help them not only in their mathematical studies but also in everyday situations where decimals are commonly used.

Educational Resources and Techniques

Worksheets and Printables

Teaching decimals can be easier for students if various worksheets and printables are employed. These resources cover essential decimal skills, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of decimals, with varying difficulty levels.

Some valuable resources can be found at Teaching Decimals In Elementary School: A Guide For Teachers and Easy, Hands-On Decimal Activities.

Worksheets can be customized to accommodate individual student’s needs and include different types of questions, ranging from:

  • Fill in the blanks
  • Multiple choice
  • Match the columns
  • Word problems

The printables may also use visual representations like grids and number lines to help students visualize decimals, especially when comparing them or converting decimals to fractions and vice versa.

Interactive Tools: Grids and Number Lines

In addition to worksheets and printables, teachers can use interactive tools that use grids and number lines to teach decimals.

Integrating such tools can enhance student engagement by encouraging hands-on practice and experimentation. Teach Decimals the Right Way: For (Conceptual) Understanding is a valuable site showcasing some of the techniques that educators may find helpful.

A grid can be used to represent decimal values visually, allowing students to see the relationship between decimals, fractions and percentages. By shading sections of a grid and assigning values to each segment, students learn to comprehend decimal concepts better.

Number lines are another essential tool for teaching decimals. They help students understand the relationship between whole numbers and decimals by placing them on the line concerning the position of other numbers.

This representation can make it easier for students to compare and order decimals, rounding, and estimation.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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