Fluency development: Improving number fluency while raising cross-cultural awareness

Masaya Kaneko, Meisei University


Quick guide

  • Key words: Fluency development, numbers, dictation, cross-cultural awareness
  • Learner English level: Beginner to advanced
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school to adult
  • Preparation time: 10-20 minutes
  • Activity time: 5-10 minutes
  • Materials: Activity handout

According to Nation (2007), a well-designed language course should consist of four equally-balanced strands: meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, language-focused learning, and fluency development. However, as Nation points out, sufficient attention is not paid to fluency development in most language courses.
The following classroom activity is aimed at helping Japanese students develop fluency with large English numbers while raising their cross-cultural awareness by comparing numerical data on various countries. This is done by dictating to students authentic English numbers which exceed five digits, such as the populations of the top five most populated U.S. states. This is challenging for many Japanese students because Japanese uses an extra placeholder label for numbers with four zeros before recycling numeric labels (1 man, 10 man, 100 man, 1,000 man), instead of recycling after three zeros as in English (1 thousand, 10 thousand, 100 thousand).
In this brief filler activity, students write down five authentic numbers that have been dictated to them. The correctness of figures jotted down is of course important; however, the speed of reporting them back to the teacher is the top priority because pressure to complete tasks at a faster pace is required to develop fluency (Nation, 2007). The students who are able to write down figures most quickly and report them back to the teacher accurately are the winners. The total number of winners for each activity amounts to five: one for each correctly reported number. Only the “losers” are assigned research homework for which they have to research comparable figures about various countries. In the case of Japan, this may be the top five most-populated prefectures, for example. (See Appendix for other examples.)

Step 1: Think of a topic which involves numbers that exceed five digits.
Step 2: Create a worksheet on the topic with blanks for students to write down English numbers.

Topic: Top five most populated US states, 2009

  • California:                 people
  • Texas:                 people
  • New York:                   people
  • Florida:                   people
  • Illinois:                   people

(The answers are as follows: 36,961,663/ 24,782,302/ 19,541,453/ 18,537,969/ 12,910,409)

Step 1: Give students the handout.
Step 2: Dictate the numbers in English. Have students immediately write them down.
Step 3: Call on the students who raise their hands most quickly and tell them to report the figures to the class. Students who answer correctly sit out the rest of the game and help the teacher pick other students who raise their hands quickly.
Step 4: Give the “losers” some research homework which requires them to search for comparable figures on the same topic. Have them type these up and submit them in a subsequent class.

This activity not only improves students’ fluency by providing repeated opportunities for listening to large numbers but also raises their cross-cultural awareness. For example, the “losers” in this activity are assigned research homework relevant to the topic given in the classroom activity. The pressure of research homework also creates a highly competitive atmosphere and adds variety to the classroom.

The world almanac and book of facts 2011. (2010). New York: Infobase Learning.
Nation, I.S.P. (2007). The four strands. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 1(1), 1-12.

Example classroom activities
Here are two example classroom activities designed for different student levels. Example A is aimed at identifying 5- to 6-digit numbers. Example B is designed for identifying 6- to 7-digit numbers. The information and figures were obtained from The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2011 (2010).

Example A
Topic: Most-Visited U.S. Social Networking Sites

  1. Yahoo! Pulse:                visitors
  2. Linkedln:                visitors
  3. Twitter:                visitors
  4. MySpace:                visitors
  5. Facebook:                visitors

(Answers: 18,063 / 20,745 / 23,319 / 66,633 / 141,638 )

Example B
Topic: Leading U.S. Daily Newspapers, 2009

  1. Washington Post:                circulation
  2. Los Angeles Times:                circulation
  3. New York Times:                circulation
  4. USA Today:                circulation
  5. Wall Street Journal:                circulation

(Answers: 582,844 / 657,467 / 927,851 / 1,900,116 / 2,011,999)