Problem Solving: Act It Out

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SWBAT use objects to act out ordering numbers to solve story problems.

Big Idea

We want our little ones to learn multiple STRATEGIES to solve math problems. One strategy is to act out a problem. This lesson will provide students an opportunity to use cubes to act out problems.

Rev Them Up

15 minutes

The main focus of this lesson is to provide ample opportunity for students to practice abstract thinking and repeated exposure to placing numbers in order from least to greatest.  This skill is necessary for students to learn to count from any starting number which is one of the concepts CCSS expects our first graders to master. (1.NBT.A.1). Here is a great YouTube video to introduce the concept to your students. I want my students to learn multiple strategies to solve problems because they all have their own learning styles. I need to provide a variety of entry points to problem solve math situations, so that my students can select or connect with the method that works for each of them. Also, this lesson provides another opportunity for my students to compare/order two-digit numbers. (1.NBT.B.3). This is accomplished more with the activity provided in the lesson extension, so please visit that section and print what you need to differentiate for your learners. I introduced comparing/ordering numbers here, if you would like to make sure and cover this common core standard before supplying this lesson.  

I will have my students act out many different problems using supplies within the room. A very important practice to build in our students is to use tools to model mathematical problems. This allows them to build the common core math practices 4 & 5 by using these tools strategically to problem solve.  I will begin with acting out my own problems:

Teacher Problem 1: 

I will use a bundle of pencils and break them into three sets; group of 2, group of 5, and a group of 8.  I will rubber band them and ask my students to help me place them in order from least to greatest.

Teacher Problem 2: 

I will grab a handful of unifix cubes and snap them into three sets; group of 4, group of 7, and group of 11.  Again, I will ask them to help me place them in order from least to greatest.  Make sure and discuss the word more and see if they understand greatest to be "more".

Now, it will be the students chance to act out some problems.

Student Problem 1: 

Start small with their crayons.  Ask them to get their crayons out and make a group of 1, group of 6, and a group of 3.  Now ask them to lay the crayons in their sets from least to greatest. Walk around and check for anyone who needs assistance.

Student Problem 2: 

This time I am altering to a word problem.  I will be building on their abstract thinking skills and providing them more opportunity to use their "tools" to solve a problem.  

Word problem: I have 3 students who need to go to the office. 2 students who need to go to the computer lab and 5 students who need to see the librarian.  Where does the greatest amount of students need to go?  Where does the least amount of students need to go?  Pick students to stand up and represent each group and ask the class to help you place them in order from least to greatest.

Student Problem 3:

This next word problem works great if you have your students sitting in small groups.  I have 4 groups of 5 and 1 group of 4 in my room.  Ask everyone at each group to take their shoes off.  Ask them to make one pile of 2 shoes, one pile of 4 shoes, and one shoe by itself.  Now move the piles around to be in order from least to greatest.

Whole Group Interaction

15 minutes

I will pass out a 1/2 of a sentence strip to every child and together we will be drawing a number line.  I have noticed in past classes that many students benefit from creating and keeping their own number line at their desk. I have watched students pull them out and use them when comparing numbers and completing addition/subtraction problems.  Many of them rely heavily on this tool in the beginning of the year and then slowly dismiss it and I no longer see it. It is no longer necessary because as first graders complete daily review and practice with numbers, they begin internalizing more and working with numbers higher than 20.

Start with having students copy you by drawing an arrow across the strip. Don't just draw a line, but include the > on the right end to represent the line will continue.  Eventually in third grade they will be touching on more geometry and lines in art and students must begin now, knowing the difference and what these symbols represent.

Have them work along with you and write their numbers 1-20 and place a bold dot on the number line for each of those numbers. I will model for them placing two finger spaces between each number, otherwise their numbers maybe jumbled together. 


Whole Group Interaction Part 2

5 minutes

I have a number line posted in the classroom for numbers 1-120. I want my students to develop strong skills in counting from any number in this range. My number line was found online, but you could also make your own by typing numbers in rows on a word processing program, cut them apart, and tape together. I will explain to my students;

First graders are supposed to learn all their numbers from 1-120 and be able to start counting from any number selected in that range. We are going to practice counting this way using our class number line.

I will cover certain numbers with Post-It notes and pick a number to begin from. I will have them practice counting from that number and figure out what is covered. Watch the video in the resource section of my class practicing this necessary skill.

Also, here is a very important teaching tip on counting.  When my little ones start counting above 100, every year I have to point out to them this big concept. Do not say "and" after the one hundreds place. So for 125, we say one hundred twenty-five, not one hundred and twenty-five. Students will begin working with decimals in later standards and will be taught to use the word "and" in place of the decimal point.  We do not want them to learn a bad habit now or develop a skill that will confuse them when decimals are introduced. Watch the video in the resource section of my class practicing their rote counting above 100.

Independent Practice

10 minutes


I created a Comparing Numbers Game Board for independent practice. I know how time consuming it is to prep game boards and materials for our first grade classrooms, so I almost feel bad for including this activity as practice.  But games are also an excellent way to provide FUN practice. Look at the pictures showing how engaged the students are with the game and they are truly having fun.

I recommend asking your parents for volunteers to cut things apart.  This will help you a lot throughout the year when you need to cut apart laminate and prepare lesson supplies.  However, you must always be thinking one week ahead so you can send home materials on Friday for your volunteers to cut apart over the weekend.

Copy the game board and play cards on two separate colors of paper. This will help distinguish the cards from the game board. You will only need one set per pair of students, so this will cut back on how much to prep.  If you want your students to practice more at home with a sibling or parents, then run whatever quantity is necessary.

Since I have already introduced a number line to my students I have now posted a number line in my room for numbers 1-120.  Also, they have a number line listed on their name plates for 1-20.  The game sheet states students need to check their answers to know if they get to move forward.  I have taught my students to look at a number line and decide if they have placed their numbers in order. Check out the pictures in the resource section of my engaged students concentrating and playing the game.

I usually have my students use different colored counters or unifix cubes as their game piece to move along the board.  Directions are printed on the game board.


Lesson Extension

5 minutes

You may already have some advanced students that are able to count above 20 and ready to order higher numbers.  This is great and will advance their knowledge towards 1.NBT.A.1, being able to pick any number 1-120 and count. Print the advanced game board in the resource section and make copies for those students who are ready. This would make a great center to open up for further practice within your room or could be used to differentiate during your independent practice time.