If you’ve seen my series on teaching different first grade math skills in hands on ways, you’ll know that I’m all about differentiating for students, making tricky concepts easier with hands on activities, and helping students master these standards so they are building solid foundational blocks for years to come.
When it comes to the skill of balancing equations, this is always one of the more difficult and harder to grasp concepts for first grade students. For our district, this unit is one of the first in the curriculum of the year. This means that while reinforcing addition and subtraction within 10, we also have to focus on truly understanding what the equal sign means. For deeper understanding, students must learn how to think critically and determine the equality of quantities and equations.
In this post, I am going to teach you some helpful tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way to help students not only understand this complex concept, but to truly master it and build upon it!
Setting the Stage
In order to support students and their understanding of equality there are a few things that help set the stage for students, engage their prior knowledge, and help ease the transition to balancing equations.
Whenever I can combine literacy and math, I am all about it. There is a perfect book for helping set the stage on this topic called Equal Shmequal by Virginia Kroll! It’s a wonderful book to help students understand the word equal with awesome visuals and begins to get them in the mindset of understanding this complex concept.
After reading, I love pulling out THIS number balance set as a way to introduce this concept for students in a hands-on way. We all gather around the balance and practice with quantities first and then equations when you feel they are ready for more. It is also helpful to add a sticky note in the middle to show an equal sign like I’ve done below.
When we’re talking about equality, it is very important to help students understand what the equal sign actually means. Ask students their thoughts first before explaining to grasp their understanding and misconceptions. This holds a lot of value for students because oftentimes they are so used to simply putting an equal sign at the end of equations without actually understanding the meaning. One tip is to relate a discussion about true vs false since it’s an easy way to connect equal and unequal. You can even throw in a quick true vs. false practice activity.
Next, I like to show them the balance again with different quantities. We create sticky notes together with various numbers so they can see what it means to be equal and not equal. Teaching students the not equal or unequal sign can be a lot of fun too. Many times they have never seen that symbol before and get really excited to use it on their own. This introductory lesson may take most of your math block on day one. That’s ok! This is a brand new concept and you want to make sure that students have a really solid understanding before having them practice on their own.
This is another balancing resource that can help students begin to understand the concept and can be added as a center activity for practice. It is a great visual activity for students understanding quantities, but aren’t quite ready for equations just yet.
Concrete Comes First
Making this concept concrete is not only SUPER helpful for providing students a solid foundation to acquire a skill, but it’s also way more engaging. When it comes to these super tricky math skills, I have a secret tool I love to use that has been a MAJOR game changer in our classroom. It’s called the CRA Model and it has got to be one of the best differentiation tools for teaching. Learn more about it HERE!
For this particular skill, I like to start with the ‘C’ part of the CRA Model which is the concrete portion. This means we bust out ALL the manipulatives and let kids see what it looks like to be equal in quantities and equations. We love using our Equal vs. Not Equal mats below to give us a space to work while using the manipulatives to help them gain a deep understanding of this concept.
These mats are perfect for using during whole group time and can be used individually or with partners. We started with quantities and moved onto equations when they were ready. Pretty soon students were creating their own. It’s a great way to provide choice and allow students to differentiate for their own needs.
Now of course you’ll find that some students don’t even need the manipulatives, but by offering them the choice it provides an important scaffold if they are struggling. Students are also given the option to use representations like circles (pictured above) and those learners that are ready for abstract thinking, can attempt to determine equality without any tools.
This stage is so beneficial because not only are you providing student choice, but they are given an array of tools to meet their own specific needs. What I really love are the conversations that come from this. You’ll have some students using manipulatives, while others are starting to see patterns in the numbers and are able to quickly add the numbers together in their mind and determine the equality. Encourage them to talk about how they are working and you’ll be so amazed at how all the information is being digested.
Anchor Their Learning
I love making adorable anchor charts for students to reference throughout the unit in our classroom but let’s be honest, I’m no artist. Solution to my problem? Traceable anchor charts! Simply project these templates on your anchor chart paper and trace away!! Included are completed and blank ones so you can make them your own if you’d like to change a component. Check out THIS anchor chart bundle with all the addition and subtraction strategies you could possibly need, including balancing equations! Below you can check out an anchor chart we build together to display all of the math tools and strategies we have in our toolbox.
Make it Fun
While teaching any skill to students, I think of two things- how do I differentiate and how can I let them play to learn this? For differentiation, I always turn to the CRA Model because I want students to start off with the concept concretely- somehow allow students to touch and manipulate what we’re working with. If students are touching and manipulating things, chances are we can make it some sort of game to play. Learn about why playing in the classroom is so important HERE!
Below you’ll find some of my FAVORITE ways to let students “play” while they learn!
Write the Room
Unknown Addend Balancing Equations Task Cards
Feed the Monster True or False
Spin and Balance
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Show off Their Learning
You’ll have everything you need to teach and assess your students and all the things they’ve learned.
Your students have worked hard and learned some great skills during this unit. Show off all that great learning with this adorable math craft that makes the perfect bulletin board display!
Below you’ll see the jam packed math centers bundle that includes ALL these engaging activities and more… with a FREEBIE of course! This bundle will help you have engaging, fun, and hands on math activities for the ENTIRE YEAR. Make math a time your students are sure to love and remember! This is also a GROWING bundle because as I come up with more hands on ideas, I continue to add them to the and each new resource that gets included, you’ll get for FREE!
I hope you enjoyed learning some fun ways to help students become masters of balancing equations. This is a CRUCIAL life skill for students and the deeper the understanding of these skills, the better! Let’s help students not only be successful, but have FUN doing it! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the Flip and Solve FREEBIE! You will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how-to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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