Counting ropes and rational numbers

Contributed by Lori Hieresrich

πŸ“– Standard

Apply and extend previous understandings of addition and subtraction to add and subtract rational numbers; represent addition and subtraction on a horizontal or vertical number line diagram.

πŸ“ƒ Summary

The lesson begins with a discussion of record keeping methods in Indigenous cultures. Students will watch video on Incan counting ropes. Students will create their own number line counting rope. Students watch another video on number lines. Students will use their number line to find Absolute Value of an integer. Students will demonstrate understanding of adding and subtracting integers on number line.

⏰ Time

45- 60 minutes

πŸ“² Technology Required

The videos can be watched on any computer, phone or tablet. Not technology, but each student needs 2 yards of cord. ( As long as needed for all the knots with even spaces between.) Thicker cord is better to make it more tactile. Cord that works could be hemp, leather strips, or twine.


Start with this PowerPoint presentation. Also available as a Google Slides presentation.

NOTE: If you are using it as a PowerPoint presentation, download it before making any changes. Making changes to the PowerPoint in Google Drive will delete the animations and one of the embedded videos and you don’t want to do that.

The first five slides introduce the topic of how people from different Indigenous cultures in the Americas measured time and other quantities.

2. Watch this video on Quipu accounting

3. Make a counting rope

Students make their own counting ropes using rope, string or twine. Instructions to give students are provided in the PowerPoint.

4. Use the counting rope to solve math problems

Students follow along in the presentation to solve problems using positive integers , fractions and negative integers. The concept of absolute number is introduced, as well as the fact that adding the same number but with the opposite sign will always equal zero. If students are learning at home, they can complete the problems on their own.


In addition to the problems completed as a class in the presentation, students complete this worksheet with problems on using a number line with positive and negative integers and absolute value. Only print the first page. The second page is the answer key.

Number line and absolute value – word doc

Number line and absolute value – pdf

Differentiated instruction (optional)

Knots on a counting rope video or the children’s book by the same name give other examples of using a rope to count. This would be appropriate for younger children or those in the class who are at a lower grade level in reading proficiency.

Recommended Related Lesson

The Codex in Latin American history and math

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