Thursday, June 19, 2014

It's a New Concept Sort! Algebra Thinking

For those of you who have been followers of mine for some time, you know that I am a HUGE fan of using concept sorts in my classroom!  There are SO many skills that are reinforced with this activity...from developing math understanding to developing mathematical discourse skills to logical thinking to cooperation to error analysis.  The amazing thing?  You can accomplish all that in less than a half hour!  I have worked with concept sorts all year and my students have made incredible gains in their ability to think through and discuss the concepts presented--whether it be features of geometric figures, fractions, equivalent to 1/2, or angle size.

One thing that I work with a great deal throughout my year is algebraic thinking.  Many teachers I know who teach intermediate grades are shocked by this--and are really shocked when they see the type of problems that many of my students can solve.  Why am I stressing this?  First of all, the failure rate in algebra nationwide is ridiculously high and I feel that elementary and middle school teachers need to take some responsibility for it.  Secondly, one main concept of algebra that is VERY accessible to elementary students is the concept of "equal".  Students use the equal sign in math every day, but by really directly teaching about "balancing" the two sides of an expression, students develop a strong foundation of algebraic thinking.  Want to test your students the first day of school?  Give them this problem and see how many get it right.

6 + 3 = ___ + 4

Try it.  See how many say "9".  See how many say "5".  See how many say "You can't do it."

So, by building on this simple concept, students are able to "be detectives" and play with algebraic expressions that get more and more complex. They LOVE it!  They love learning about variables...about parentheses...about inequalities.  

This sort was perfect after we had learned about parentheses and that a number next to a variable means "multiply the two"
This challenging sort led to great discussions...these values of "n" have solution sets of more than one number!  Students loved trying to find which solutions sets matched each expression!
The students often write directly on the cards to "prove" their thinking and to help check for errors.
 So...this sort resource is a little bit different than my previous ones but I think will really help push your student's mathematical thinking.  As with all my sort resources, teaching tips and a full set of directions with photos is included as are blank cards for students to make up their own AND a page for each sort that can be done independently or as an assessment.  Want to check it out?  Click the image below.  To celebrate finishing it, I am marking it AND all 3 of the other concept sort resources on sale until Friday night.  Enjoy!

Want to see some other blog posts about concept sorts?  Click HERE or HERE to read more about concept sorts!


  1. Love this idea! I can't wait to use these with my students. Thanks for the June special--my tpt name is groovy7773, I bought the concept sorts for algebra thinking and fractions. My email is and I would like your Multi-Step Common Core Word Problem Collection grade 3-4 as my free product. Thanks!!

  2. This makes a lot of sense. I like that kids can manipulate the cards and write on them, all to play around with what's really going on - almost like a close read for Algebra!