How To Teach Roman Numerals

roman numerals


We are beginning the start of a new school year with a ‘How-To-Teach’ series. Our intention is to highlight topics that are somewhat tricky for students to learn and parents to assist. We’d like to offer suggestions on fun and quicker ways to learn them.

Many students are quick to tell that they don’t need to learn the roman numerals because it is an old form of numbers that are not relevant today. Guess what? They may be right but not entirely so! Remind them about the importance of being widely literate which obviously sets them apart from the crowd. Also, there are still many places where Roman Numerals are found. Here’s a list of them.

Old buildings
Old/Modern clocks
Page numbers of books
Microsoft word (used to number pages)
Hollywood movies (found at the very end of the credits shown telling the year it was made).
So… we begin with the Roman Numerals for elementary school. We have observed that it can an uphill task to make kids memorize the roman numerals because it involves a lot of ‘rote learning’ in sense. Children have to memorize and match the letters of the Roman Numerals to their value in numbers…..sort of like Math meeting Language! In order to master this skill, students have to remember what each numeral stands for and the rules that follow. For example, one rule of the Roman Numeral is that you cannot have more than three(3) of the same numerals at once etc. Here’s a guide to the rules of Roman Numerals.



Explain to your child that the number symbols we use every day came from Arabia and are called Arabic numerals. A different system was used in ancient Rome. We call these symbols Roman numerals. The Roman numeral system uses six basic symbols:
I = 1
V = 5
X = 10
L = 50
C = 100
D = 500
M = 1,000
STEP 1 – Learn all the ones digits:

1 = I, 2= II 3 = III, 4 = IV, 5 = V, 6 = VI, 7 = VII, 8 = VIII, 9 = IX, 10 = X

There are two rules for writing Roman numerals:
Putting a numeral of lesser value before a numeral of greater value decreases the second numeral by the amount of the first. Thus IV equals four because V (five) is decreased by I (one).
Putting a numeral of lesser value after a numeral of greater value increases the first numeral by the amount of the second. Thus VI equals six because V (five) is increased by I (one).
Write some Roman numerals on a sheet of paper and challenge your child to figure out what numbers they represent. Start with easy ones, such as I (one), II (two), III (three), IV (four), V (five), VI (six), VII (seven), VIII (eight), IX (nine), and X (ten).
Remind your child that when the numerals of the same character come together, they add up. E.g II = 1 + 1 = 2 and III = 1+1+1=3; and the maximum number of same numerals coming together is 3. So, IIII is not 4. We make 4 from taking away 1 from 5 which is IV. Tell them that we put the (I) numeral before the (V) to take away and (I) after (V) to add. Same rule applies in the tens and hundreds after memorizing them. If you have a small value in front of a big one, you take away and vice versa. We will give you a quick mnemonic to help you child recall the numerals.

STEP 2 – Learn all the tens digits:

10 = X, 20 = XX, 30 = XXX, 40 = IX, 50 = L, 60 = LX, 70 = LXX, 80 = LXXX, 90 = XC, 100 = C

Ask your child to notice the patterns of not more than three of same numerals and how a number decreases or increases.

When your child masters these numbers, try more difficult ones, such as XL (forty), LX (sixty), XC (ninety), and so on.
Take turns writing and interpreting Roman numerals.
Step 3 – Learn the hundreds digits:

100 = C, 200 = CC, 300 = CCC, 400 = CD 500 = D, 600 = DC, 700 = DCC, 800 = DCCC, 900 = CM, 1000 = M

Step 4 – Know how compound numbers are written.

There are numerous rules that govern the way Roman numerals are supposed to look. Here are some rules to know:

IV should be used rather than IIII
3968 is written as MMMCMLXVIII because:
The first M gives you 1000
The next M gives you 1000
The next M gives you 1000
The next CM gives you 900
The next LX gives you 60
The next VIII gives you 8
Therefore if you add the amounts together, you will get 3968.
You should have fun with this, making sure you it stress free for your child. Use this mnemonic to help recalling of numerals.

I = I

V = ViewL

X = X- rays

L = Lucky

C = Cows

D = Drink

M = Milk

Say it this way…”I View X-rays..(pause)…Lucky Cows Drink Milk”. Another way is to begin from the largest numeral down to the smallest i.e. from M to I. It goes My Dear Cat Loves Xtra Vitamins Intensely.”

Step 5 – Learn to write larger numbers.

Since M = 1,000, if you want to represent one million, a bar, or line, is added above the numeral M, equaling one million. The bar above the numeral represents that figure times one thousand. Thus, M x M= 1,000,000.

Five million would be represented by MMMMM with a bar above each M. This procedure is necessary because in Roman numerals, there is no larger symbol than M (1,000). This method isn’t commonly used, but it’s good to know how it works.
Tip: Know some numerals


We suggest you begin slowly with the ones if your child is in their first grade, then work your way up as they get older. If your child is up to the 3rd grade, they should be able to learn all within a given period. Do you have more ideas and questions? Please share!

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