What is Algebra?

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SWBAT identify the terms used in algebraic expressions.

Big Idea

What do 6th grade students really need to know about Algebra?

Do Now

10 minutes

To begin today's lesson, I ask students to complete a Do Now problem focused on reasoning about numerical expressions. The task requires students to use the orders of operations successfully.  I thought this would be a good idea because today, the students will be introduced to algebraic expressions. 

When students are done solving this problem in their notes , I will introduce them to the idea that numerical expressions are only one type of mathematical expression. We will start to learn about others today.  


15 minutes

To get students started on the right foot with algebraic expressions, I will first introduce some new mathematical vocabulary to my students. I will ask my students to take notes as I display and discuss common vocabulary used in algebra.  The vocabulary words are defined and examples are highlighted for each one.  

I hold my students responsible for writing the definition and examples for each new vocabulary term. I generally point out the highlighted pieces, so students can make connections correctly.  I remind my students to use a highlighter or bold text to draw attention to important examples.

Additional Resources:

What is algebra.pptx

What is algebra notes.docx 

True or False and What is? Identifying the parts of an expession.

15 minutes

During this activity I give the students the opportunity to apply the new vocabulary terms. I begin by having the students work through the True or False and What is...  slides independently.  Once all students have completed each problem, I’m going to have them do a Round robin share with their table mates (MP1, MP3, MP6).  Each student should share their response and say why they know it’s true.  If table mates disagree, they can share their thoughts at that time.

Coming to terms

15 minutes

During this section of the lesson, we will focus on what an algebraic expression looks like and identifying the number of terms in the expression.  I will give the students four algebraic expressions to analyze (see Is it an expression?).  The students will be identifying the parts, deciding if the expression is algebraic or numeric, and determining how many terms are in the expression (MP2, MP6).  The last two questions will be a challenge for most students.  I expect that these problems will provide a clear assessment of who can apply the meanings of the vocabulary words.  If students struggle with these problems, they can use their tablemates to help with the understanding

As students finish, we will go over the answers as a whole group. 


Around the Room

20 minutes

After introducing students to new vocabulary, I want to give them the chance to get up and move around the room a bit as we continue to learn about algebraic expressions. So, next we will do an Around the Room activity. The Around the Room questions sum up the learning for the day.  I used several different formats for the questions:

  • true/false
  • multiple choice
  • open response. 

This activity should be fast paced so I will actively encourage students to keep moving. I want to make sure that we have time to go over answers as a whole group.




10 minutes

To bring today's lesson to an end, the students will be doing a Connect 3 using the words: 

  • expression
  • variable
  • coefficient

I have prepared a Graphic Organizer for students who need this resource.

The Common Core explains that the students need to know that a coefficient belongs to a variable, whereas a constant is used with addition and subtraction (6.EE.A.2).  I will look and listen for this understanding as students work. If time permits, I will have the students share their responses with a partner.