Friday, October 7, 2011

The Week Ending October 7th: Combining Like Terms--A Cheap and Easy Game


Another week completed!.

Our literacy work is struggling and stumbling along (This weekend my focus will be refining our CAFE work).  But math is going MUCH better! (Finally!)

If you're like me, money is short and time is limited.  Still, you want to have opportunities for math instruction (and interaction) that are beyond paper-pencil.  If you are REALLY like me, you just want another excuse to cut up colored cardstock on your 1993 vintage paper cutter!

Here's a quick game that helps kids practice combining like terms.  I like to do a few games like this early in the school year.  The sixth graders often ask, "When can we do algebra again? Algebra is fun!"  Isn't that music to a teacher's ears!

Run off enough pages on cardstock to have a set for each two or three kids.  (I've never tried it with four... but if they can collaborate and cooperate, good on you!)  And if you have one of those "Can-I-Help-You?" Pals with scissors and a smile, you can get out of cutting too!  (I, of course, have offered to cut the pieces for other classes! Crazy, I know!)

I'll speak of twosomes because some of my kids are still at the "learning to survive in a partnership" stage.  We've done the conceptual part of the learning and a funny intro with cotton balls (Ahhh... material for another post!), so this is just a warm-up/practice.  I usually have kids work on whiteboards, but paper folded into eight squares would work fine too.

Each player chooses two cards initially.  They work together to combine like terms, discussing putting the variables in alpha order with units at the end of the expression.  I usually have to remind them that this is not an equation; we're not solving, just practicing combining the terms.  They talk about it and write the expression on the white boards.

After they have chatted about several combinations, I ask each partner to choose three cards--making a total of six.  If you're brave and they're ready, you can have them play "Write. Share. Compare"

After looking at the cards, each partner writes the expression.  They count "1-2-3- Share" and then compare.  If there is a discrepancy, they talk it through.  I love to hear:  "Oooooh. I get it now!"  You can adjust the number of cards based on skill (and determination!)  Often, I start with adding terms only, but some partnerships are already for subtracting--and negative numbers quite quickly.

I posted the page on, so you can make the cards easier or more difficult to suit the needs of your kiddos.

I hope that someone can adapt this activity for her/his class. And  I hope you'll let me know if it works for you  Have fun!

Link back to the party at Clutter-Free Classroom!


  1. This makes me wish I taught upper elem or middle school! I'm currently in 3rd grade. Great idea!

  2. Where were you when I was teaching self-contained 6thgrade?!

  3. Joan! You're back with us!
    I hope things are falling into place at school.
    I've thought of you often and wished you happy thoughts...


  4. Hi Meghan:

    Hmmm. Let me think of a third grade variation...
    Check back, okay?


  5. LOVE <3.... and I am about to do order of operations... I think this would be awesome!

  6. Hi Leslie!
    One of my friends bought me a PEMDAS shirt which I will wear when we do Order of Operations next week. FUN!

    Thanks for reading!


  7. Hi LongIsland Teacher:

    I'm glad you like the game. Have fun.
    Thank for commenting.


  8. Shouldn't the constant be 7 (not 8) in your photo example?

  9. WOW, anonymous, you're good!

    That was a kid's board.
    You should get a prize!


    (Now if I only knew how to fix a graphic...)


  10. I LOVE this idea! I am going to add in x^2 because that is the one that my kids always confuse (when adding with x terms). I may also "dice dots" on the back so I can make it a game. I need more games for my game center. THANK YOU! :)

  11. I am totally stealing this for my seventh grade classroom in Utah!!! AND the next day I think I am going to make a second set of cards with enough for each stuent, hand each student a card and have them find their like terms and simplify the class expression. :) LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE your idea. :)

  12. Hi Kim, I just found this blog on Pinterest- thank you so much for posting this!
    I love teaching 6th grade in an elementary school, too- it's so great!

  13. I just realized I posted under my husband's account- can't figure out how to log out! This is why I don't teach computers... :)
    -Amber Varner


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