Teaching Long Division

Division takes lots of practice.

Teaching long division is fundamental to a stronger understanding of more complex mathematics. For most kids, it's the first time that they will have to use a series of steps in order to arrive at the correct answer.

Common Struggles in Learning Long Division

There are a few things that most kids struggle with when learning long division. If you can address these issues right away and nip any potential problems in the bud, your child will do much better in learning long division.

Keeping Columns Straight

If you have a child that engages in "creative math" by putting numbers in the wrong columns, rest assured you're not the only one. Fortunately, there are two really simple strategies for dealing with the problem. The first is to have your child do math on graph paper. Get graph paper that has large squares. For most kids, doing math this way will help them keep the columns straight and get the answer right (almost) every time. The second strategy is to use highlighters to delineate the columns for the child.

Sometimes parents are afraid that offering these simple helps will create an unnecessary dependency. However, it's important to remember that learning long division isn't easy and giving help can keep problems and confusion at bay.

Knowing Math Facts

There is some debate in the world of math education as to whether or not it is beneficial to have kids memorize math facts. This is one instance when automatically knowing how many times three will go into twelve is very helpful. Some children struggle so much with the simple division that they forget their place while they are dividing. If this describes your child, it might be time to back up and pull out those flash cards.

Zeroes in the Answer

Many children struggle with the division problem when there are zeroes in the middle of the answer. It's best to avoid problems like this until your child is well on their way to mastering long division.

Strategies for Teaching Long Division

A good and thorough explanation is the best way to start when you are trying to teach long division. Most children will need to see the process through step by step several times before they will be able to do it on their own. To that end, there are several strategies that you can employ to make the process go a little more easily.

Visual Aids

There are two types of visual aids that are very easy to make on your own. The first is a simple chart that reminds the child that the steps to long division are:

  • Divide
  • Multiply
  • Subtract
  • Bring down

For children who have a hard time remembering the steps, create this chart to fit at the table and then give your child clothespins so that he can mark his spot as he is working.

The second visual that is very helpful to children learning long division is to make a small poster of a problem being done step by step. Children can refer to the model and hopefully apply what they are seeing to their own work.

Expanded Notation and Long Division

It is helpful to have your children think about the dividend in terms of expanded notation. So for example, if the number is 693 being divided by 3, have your child write out 600 + 90 + 3. Then have your child deal with each part of the problem separately. For example, how many times does 3 go into 600... and so on. This can get confusing as you get into numbers that don't divide evenly, but it is a great way to teach the concepts initially.

Whatever tricks you use to teach long division, it's important to give your child time to fully master the concept. You should plan to spend at least a couple of days teaching the initial concept and then a few more days introducing new ideas such as a zero in the middle of the answer or remainders and decimals.

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Teaching Long Division