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Sixth Grade Math Activity: Learning About Absolute Value

written by: Nicole Hilsabeck • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 2/20/2014

Incorporate the concept of absolute value into a fun game that the entire class will enjoy!

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    Make learning about absolute value more fun with this great game. Objective: Students will exercise their skills in determining absolute value of a number by playing a trivia game.

    CCSS.Math.Content.6.NS.C.7: Understand ordering and absolute value of rational numbers.

    CCSS.Math.Content.6.NS.C.7c: Understand the absolute value of a rational number as its distance from 0 on the number line; interpret absolute value as magnitude for a positive or negative quantity in a real-world situation. For example, for an account balance of –30 dollars, write |–30| = 30 to describe the size of the debt in dollars.

    Materials: Pre-made cards with positive, negative, and absolute value symbols, pre-made number cards, trivia questions, large white board with markers or other form of keeping tally of team points, displayed number line

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    Lesson Procedure

    Step One: Review of Positive, Negative, and Absolute Value

    Give a brief warm-up discussion on positive and negative numbers and absolute value, and how to identify a number's distance from zero on a number line. Students should be somewhat familiar with the symbols for positive, negative, and absolute value before beginning the game.

    Step Two: Introduction of Game Procedure

    Explain that students will be split into two teams to play a basic trivia game, during which they will accumulate points. Teams will send one student up to the board at a time (all students must participate). Pull and display a number card, representing how many points the team has the potential to earn for a correct answer.

    Ask the students a trivia question. Students should have some method of signaling their readiness to answer (such as dropping an eraser), so that they are not blurting answers out at the same time.

    The first student to answer the question correctly will get to choose to draw a symbol card or pass to the other team to draw. The appropriate student will draw a symbol card from the pile, determining the point value of the given number displayed before the question was posed. For example, if the number on display is 30, and the student draws a plus sign, the team will get 30 points. If the student draws a minus sign, the value of the number will be negative, so the team will lose 30 points. If the student draws the absolute value sign, the team will earn 30 points, as the absolute value of the number is positive.

    Students will quickly learn to assess the symbols for possible gains or losses to their point totals, and should become familiar with the concept that the value of a number’s absolute value is positive. Students will also begin to strategize, choosing to pass to the other team if they determine the risks of drawing a negative card on a high number are too great.

    Classroom Management Tip: Students may get a bit heated about results of the card draws, so you may want to choose a team captain to draw for each side if students don’t feel comfortable drawing the cards when it is their turn. You should also remind students to work together as teams to strategize and enjoy the game.

    Assessment: If needed, you can give a short quiz on positive and negative numbers and absolute value (quiz can serve as a quiet cool-down activity after the game even if assessment is not needed).

    Extension: Ask students to incorporate the positive/negative/absolute value concepts into their favorite family games at home, so they can get additional practice!


Number Sense: Lessons and Activities for 6th Grade Math

In this series, we cover topics related to positive and negative numbers, absolute value, and number lines. We include suggestions for fun games and activities the whole class will enjoy!
  1. Sixth Grade Math Lesson: Positive/Negative Number Situation Sort
  2. Sixth Grade Math Activity: Learning About Absolute Value
  3. Using Color to Better Understand Number Lines
  4. Fun Activity to Introduce Ordered Pairs to Your Class
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