EdPlace's Year 4 Home Learning Maths Lesson: Counting Backwards Through Zero and Negative Numbers

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Get them started on the lesson below and then jump into our teacher-created activities to practice what they've learnt. We've recommended five to ensure they feel secure in their knowledge - 5-a-day helps keeps the learning loss at bay (or so we think!).

Are they keen to start practising straight away? Head to the bottom of the page to find the activities. 

Now...onto the lesson!


Key Stage 2 Statutory Requirements for Maths
Year 4 students should be able to count backwards through zero to include negative numbers


Counting Involving Negative Numbers

Want to feel more positive when tackling negative numbers? Why not check out our step by step approach? Negative numbers can be particularly confusing for children. However, this article will help you to support your child, so that they feel more confident when tackling questions involving counting back through zero! We're confident that by the end of this lesson your child will be able to:

1) Understand how to count backwards past zero into the negative numbers

2) Apply this understanding of numbers less than zero to continue number sequences or find missing numbers

3) Explain their understanding back to you, if they've really cracked it!


Step 1 - Getting to Grips with the Basics

Before we jump into counting with negative numbers, it’s important to ensure that your child understands that negative numbers are worth less than zero. Negative numbers are often used to describe temperature, water depths and money and this is a good way to show your child how they are applicable to real-life scenarios. If you have any thermometers around the house you could show your child how they work, just like the number lines they use at school. Alternatively, you could explain how negative numbers are used to show an overdrawn bank account.

A key point for your child to understand is that the further below zero we count, the larger the digits we use. Negative numbers can be confusing due to this. For example, the fact that -6 is actually worth less than -4! Lots of children find this really strange to begin with. So, it's useful to explain that -6 is 6 steps below zero, while -4 is only 4 steps below zero.


Step 2 - Mastering the Key Concepts First...

When we use negative numbers we use a sign before the number to show it is worth less than zero. Negative numbers are also sometimes called minus numbers, so it's useful for your child to hear both words to understand that they mean the same thing. Write out some numbers on sticky notes or a mini whiteboard for your child, and practice separating them into numbers worth more than zero (positive numbers) and numbers worth less than zero (negative numbers). Make sure your child is using the vocabulary, more, less, negative, positive and zero correctly.


Step 3 - Plotting Negative Numbers on Numbers Lines

When we count backwards through zero the numbers will appear to get smaller, then larger as we pass the point of zero.  Numbers are often shown on a number line which is displayed horizontally or vertically.



Often, on a vertical number line, the numbers are displayed with the negative numbers near the bottom. On a horizontal number line, the negative numbers are often to the left but not always. To help your child's understanding you could give them numbers (for example 5 to -5) to order in a line, asking them to say the names of the numbers. With numbers less than zero, they should say ‘negative 4’ or ‘minus 4’ but there is no need to say ‘positive 4’.  


Step 4 - Why Not Try Tackling Some Questions?

Using the terms, method and knowledge you gained in steps 1-3, why not have a go at answering the following questions together with your child?

1) I have a number sequence: 3, 2, 1, 0, -1, -2, _ Which number comes next?

2) I count backwards down to zero from 6. Which numbers will I say?

3) My number sequence is as follows: 6, 4, 2, 0, -2, -4, _ Which number comes next?

4) My number sequence is 3, 2, 1, 0, -1, -2, _, -4, -5 What is my missing number?

5) My number sequence is -6, _, -2, 0, 2, 4, 6 What is my missing number?

6) Someone has muddled up the following number sequence: -4, -2, -3, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 Which numbers have been swapped around?

If you want to attempt another activity to push your child, you could also repeat the sticky note exercise and play a game where two numbers are swapped or one is removed and replaced with a blank sticky note. Can your child spot the mistakes in the number or identify the missing value?


Step 5 - Activity Time!

Now, you’ve covered this together why not put this to the test and assign your child the following activities involving numbers, sequences and negative numbers? All activities are created by teachers and automatically marked.

Plus, with an EdPlace subscription, we can automatically progress your child at a level that's right for them. Sending you progress reports along the way so you can track and measure progress, together - brilliant! 


Activity 1 - Complete Sequences By Filling in Gaps

Activity 2 - Number Sequence: Create Your Own

Activity 3 - Ordering Positive and Negative Numbers

Activity 4 - Count Backwards to Include Negative Numbers (1)

Activity 5 - Count Backwards to Include Negative Numbers (2)



1) -3

2) 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0

3) -6

4) -3

5) -4

6) -2 and -3


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