Just How Many is a “Million Dead”?
By Kirstin Bittel and Sally Rusk

Time: 1 class period
Preparation Time: 15 minutes researching and downloading local population information.
Materials: School, City, State, and National Population Information
Overhead 1

This activity aims to convey the idea of millions by converting war death tolls into comprehensible numbers like city and state populations and personalizing them. Students will grapple with the concept of a million.

Students will be able to:-
1. Convert large numbers into meaningful ratios
2. Conceptualize 1 million

Math Strand
Number Sense: Understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems.

Teacher Background

Resource Websites



If you had a million dollars and were asked to spend one dollar each minute, how long do you think it would take you to spend that money?

Tell students, “Now let’s think about millions in terms of people. How many people attend this school? [Allow time for students to answer each question before moving on, have stats ready in case students do not know]. How many people live in our city? This state? The entire United States? [292, 492, 317 as of 1/31/2004]

So what does it mean when we say that 10,000,000 people died in the First World War? Take a moment to calculate how many of our city’s population is that. (i.e. Tucson, AZ has a population of 600,000 people, so 10,000,000 dead is equal to 16.6 Tucsons being killed during the war)

Look at Overhead One – figure out how many of our city would have been killed in the following wars throughout history.

Come up with a unique way to explain the idea of 1 million to a elementary school age child so the number has meaning.

Think about how having this number of people die, usually men in wars, might affect population growth. Record these thoughts in your math journal.

Are students able to determine which mathematical processes should be used?
Are their answers correct?
Are they able to identify illogical incorrect answers?


Complete the explain piece to share in class tomorrow.

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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