The Learning disAbilities Newsletter
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Reading the Ruler

      Many children and adults have significant difficulty reading a ruler.  Those who have visual perception problems many not be able to distinguish the different lengths of the lines between inch marks.  For some the cause of their poor ruler reading skill is not understanding fractions; for others the cause is the layout of the ruler itself.  Figure 1. contains a picture of a typical ruler.  Notice that the numbers for the inch marks are located next to the inch mark rather than directly under the inch mark.  For individuals who do not know how to read a ruler this is confusing.  These people think that the number is the location of the inch mark rather than the line next to it.  Individuals who do not understand fractions are confused by the concept of quarters and eights.  A person might read , and   instead of , , and .  If a person has difficulty understanding quarters then eights and sixteenths are completely foreign.  Figure 2. shows a ruler designed to help teach the concepts of quarters.  For individuals who have no problems reading rulers these problems are difficult to understand.   
      To assist individuals who have had difficulty learning to measure, have the person start to measure things in the room by rounding to the nearest inch.  A tabletop that is 24 and inches would be rounded to 25 inches.  A bottle cap that measures 7/8 would be rounded to 1 inch.  A cup that measures 3 and inches would be rounded to 3 inches.  This will allow the person to become familiar with measuring and the numbers associated with the things around them without worrying about the fractions. As noted above, not understanding the fractions is often the reason the person did not learn to measure with a ruler in the first place.  
      After the person can measure easily to the nearest inch, he or she can be taught to round to the nearest half inch.  This ruler has the half-inch clearly marked making it easier for the person to learn how to measure to the nearest half inch.  The next step is to have the person measure to the nearest quarter inch.  This ruler is ideal for learning this step since the quarters are marked.  Once the person has mastered rounding to the nearest , , or , the student can be taught to read eights.  It may take longer for the person to master measuring to the nearest eighth but with sufficient practice most individuals can learn this step.  If the student has great difficulty with measuring to the nearest eighth, the student’s vision should be checked. 

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

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Lasted Updated 04/03/2004