Teaching Reciprocals of Numbers and Terms

To introduce teaching reciprocals of numbers and terms I begin the lesson explaining that everything has an opposite.  The opposite of shutting a door is to open it.  The opposite of saying hello is to say goodbye.  Numbers have opposites too we call them reciprocals.

Teaching Reciprocals of Numbers and Terms

To start the lesson I say to the class,

“I want you to discuss what you think might be the opposite of 2 and you must explain why you think this.”

In your explanation try to use diagrams such as the place value table or a number line to back up your argument.   I asked the class to present their reasoning on mini-whiteboards for me and other students to read.

The most common response at this point is to say negative two.  We discuss how this could work on a number line.

Negative two is the opposite of positive two because it is the same magnitude of distance away from zero on the number line.  This makes sense.  Or does it?

Teaching Reciprocals of Numbers and Terms

Reciprocal of Zero is Zero?

If the reciprocal of a number is the same distance of that number from zero what is the reciprocal of zero?  If zero represents ‘nothing’ or no place value how can it be positive?  If zero cannot be positive, then how can the opposite of zero be negative?

I encourage students to think some more.

Writing Integers as Fractions

After a short time, we discuss how the number two can also be written as a fraction  .  The almost immediate response now is the opposite of two is one half because you can flip the fraction.  This makes sense.  I remind the class we thought we had it last time but got stuck on the opposite of zero.

Reciprocal of Zero is Infinity

If we take the reciprocal of a number to be the flipped fraction when the number is written over 1.  Then the opposite of zero must be infinity.  When you write zero as  and you flip it to make  the question now becomes how many zeros go into 1?  Infinite zeros do.  The reciprocal of zero is therefore infinity.  More simply – the opposite of nothing (zero) is everything (infinity).

Finding the reciprocal of any number

Now we understand the reciprocal of a number to be defined as one divided by that number we can look at more complex values such as finding the reciprocal of ordinary and top-heavy fractions, mixed numbers, decimals, powers and even algebraic expressions.

Teaching Reciprocals of Numbers and Terms

Product of a number and its reciprocal

When teaching reciprocals of numbers and terms I know it would have been much easier for me, and possibly for the students too, to say the reciprocal of a number is 1 divided by that number.  I could even have stated n × 1/ n = 1.  Sometimes I will do this depending on the students I’m teaching.  However, I have found though that when there is an opportunity to explore mathematics in this way students become engaged much quicker and are more likely to maintain their engagement for longer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Mr Mathematics Blog

Getting Ready for a New School Year

When getting ready for a new school year I have a list of priorities to work through. Knowing my team have all the information and resources they need to teach their students gives me confidence we will start the term in the best possible way.  Mathematics Teaching and Learning Folder All teachers receive a folder […]

Mathematics OFSTED Inspection – The Deep Dive

Earlier this week, my school took part in a trial OFSTED inspection as part of getting ready for the new inspection framework in September 2019. This involved three Lead Inspectors visiting our school over the course of two days. The first day involved a ‘deep dive’ by each of the Lead Inspectors into Mathematics, English […]

How to Solve Quadratics by Factorising

The method of how to solve quadratics by factorising is now part of the foundational knowledge students aiming for higher exam grades are expected to have.   Here is an example of such a question. Solve x2 + 7x – 18 = 0 In my experience of teaching and marking exam papers students often struggle with […]