Did you know that the number four is magical?
Well then, perhaps your students are also unaware of the magical powers of the humble number four.
So here’s a puzzle that is particularly suitable for an EFL lesson. Both the complexity of the puzzle and the language level of the discussion can be scaffolded and adjusted to suit many levels, so I leave it to you to decide whether this activity is suitable for your students.
Begin by presenting the question:
The number four is magical. Why? What makes it magical? You have to find out.
Choose a number. Any number.
Sure! No problem. So:
12 is 6 / 6 is 3 / 3 is 5 / 5 is 4 / AND 4 IS MAGICAL.
Choose another number.
98 is 11 / 11 is 6 / 6 is 3 / 3 is 5 / 5 is 4 / AND 4 IS MAGICAL.
200 is 10 / 10 is 3 / 3 is 5 / 5 is 4 / AND 4 IS MAGICAL.
30, 000,000? (students often like BIG numbers)
30, 000,000 is 13 / 13 is 8 / 8 is 5 / 5 is 4 / AND 4 IS MAGICAL.
Why is 4 magical?
Feeling mystified? The students don’t know the answer yet?
The next step is to have your students write the figures as words on the board (or in their notebooks or a shared page when working in groups).
It should like this:
twelve is six / six is three / three is five / five is four / AND FOUR IS MAGICAL.
ninety-eight is eleven / eleven is six / six is three / three is five / five is four / AND FOUR IS MAGICAL.
two hundred is ten / ten is three / three is five / five is four / AND FOUR IS MAGICAL.
thirty million is thirteen / thirteen is eight / eight is five / five is four/ AND FOUR IS MAGICAL.
Why is 4 magical?
If students need an additional hint, draw little diagrams with arrows. Show them that ten is three, six is three, and two is also three. What do the words “ten”, “six” and “two” have in common?
The number of letters in the words is the key. 10 is 3 because there are three letters in the word “ten”.
Four is magical because it is the only number which has the same number of letters as the figure it denotes.
This puzzle works beautifully both in English and in Hebrew. I’m very curious as to whether the puzzle can be used in other languages as well. Please try and see – don’t forget to let me know!