Using chalk or masking tape, make a number line on the floor. (The
students will use this to find differences on a number line by hopping
from a number toward 0.) Tell the students that they will now use the
number line to compare lengths. Ask one student to hop to 5 and another
to hop to 3. Then ask, “Who hopped farther? How much farther?” Repeat
with other students.
Next, draw a number line with the spaces one cracker apart, draw a
red ring and place 3 fishshaped crackers and a blue ring with 2
fishshaped crackers inside. Ask: How many more fishshaped crackers
are in the ring with 3 fishshaped crackers? How can we find out using
the number line?
Diagram 1: Number line with numerals the distance of one fish apart 

Diagram 2: Circle with red fish and circle with blue
fish 
 
Encourage the students to line up the crackers from the red ring with the left end of the number line.
Then ask them to place the crackers from the blue ring in a line below the first line.
Diagram 3: Number line with fish 

Next show how to hop back from the end of the longer line, counting
the hops aloud. Have the students record the comparison using the
equation notation [3  2 = 1] on the Differences Activity Sheet.
Differences Activity Sheet
It is not uncommon for the students to count the lines on the
number line rather than the spaces covered by the hops. You may wish to
highlight the fact that in this meaning for the operation of
subtraction, spaces are counted, not points on the number line. You may
demonstrate this by using a length of paper the size of a fishshaped
cracker to hop back with. After several examples, show the students
that they do not need to place the crackers themselves on the number
line, but can mark the length with a crayon.
To enrich the students' understanding of the number line concept, model how to use the Number Line Arithmetic Tool
from the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives to compare lengths.
Encourage the students to use this site during math center time, and
assign students to work at the site in pairs. Those not taking their
turn at the computer should complete the next activities.
Put the students into pairs and give each pair fishshaped crackers, crayons, and one number line from the Number Lines Activity Sheet.
Number Lines Activity Sheet
Ask each student to make two sets of crackers on a piece of
paper, and then enclose each in rings of different colors. Then have
the students line up the crackers carefully and draw, in the
appropriate colors, a line as long as the number of crackers in the
set. Then ask them to compare the lengths on the number line to find
the difference and to record the comparison in pictures and in equation
form. After allowing time for exploration, call the students together
to read their equations and share their number line illustrations.
As a concluding activity, pose puzzles such as "I am thinking of two
numbers on the number line that have a difference of 5. The larger
number is 6. What is the other number?" (If the students are ready for
a challenge, you might say only: "I am thinking of two numbers on the
number line that have a difference of 5. What are the numbers?") You
may wish to have the students create and share similar problems. One or
more of these puzzles could be added to their learning portfolios.
Questions for Students
1. How could you use the number line to compare two plates, one of which has five fishshaped crackers and the other of which has three fishshaped crackers?
[Draw a number line, mark the places for five and three with fish, and then compare the distance between them.]
2. What numbers have a difference of 2? Can you find some of them on the number line?
[Some examples include: 5  3, 4  2, and 3  1.]
3. What would be the difference if two plates had the same number of crackers on them? Would the lines that showed how many crackers are in each plate be the same length? How do you know?
[0; yes; student responses may vary.]
4. How would you explain to a friend how to compare lengths on the number line?
[Student responses may vary.]
Teacher Reflection
 Which students counted as they took hops, and which moved directly
to the number? [The latter is an indication of a more developed number
sense.]
 What activities would be appropriate for students who met all the objectives?
 Which students had trouble using the number line? What instructional experiences do they need next?
 What adjustments will I make the next time that I teach this lesson?