Story Problems: Act It Out

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SWBAT demonstrate their understanding of addition by acting out story problems using cubes.

Big Idea

This lesson helps kinders bridge the gap between understanding addition and subtraction and how these concepts are used in real life situations.

Daily Calendar & Counting Review

15 minutes

Each day we begin our math block with an interactive online calendar followed by counting songs and videos.

Calendar Time:

We do calendar on Starfall every afternoon.  This website has free reading and math resources for primary teachers. It also has a  “more” option that requires paying a yearly fee. The calendar use is free. A detailed description of Daily Calendar math is included in the resources.

Counting with online sources: Today we did counting practice to reinforce the counting skills. We watched two to three number recognition 0-10 videos (one to two minutes each) because some of my students students were still struggling with identifying numbers correctly in random order. We watched "Shawn the Train" and counted objects with him to refresh our memories on how to count objects to ten and to reinforce one to one counting. Since we have started the second quarter of the school year, we added to today's counting practice: counting to 20 forward and back, counting by tens to 100 and counting to 100 by ones to get a jump on our end of the year goals.

Direct Instruction

15 minutes

Addition and subtraction concepts are best learned in context. Before introducing children to standard addition and subtraction algorithms, I teach them to use the skill in story problems. This makes the function of addition and subtraction real for the kids.

I use a website called Starfall to introduce this lesson on the ActivBoard. Starfall is free for the basic package, but subscription for the extended site. Some free interactive web choices include ABCya, and Fun4theBrain.

I first read a counting book (Every Buddy Counts from the Envisions math kit) but any counting book to ten or twenty would work. We count the objects in the book together while I touch each object. This gets their brains focused on counting and warms them up for the lesson.

I tell the kids, "Today we are going to learn how act out things we hear in stories using cubes. So the blocks are going to represent the objects in the story. If the story is about birds, then the blocks will be our birds. If it’s about dogs, then the blocks will be our dogs."

I pass out the bags of blocks. We review the rules so that we remember that no one is allowed to touch the materials until we begin. If I notice kids reaching for the blocks before we begin, I say,  “Hands up!” and they raise their hands in the air where I can see them.

We view and interact with a few word problems (addition to ten), preferably using a website (I use Starfall or BrainPop Jr.) and work through them using our counting blocks.


15 minutes

I close the website and turn off the ActivBoard. I tell the kids that we are going to act out story problems.

We begin by reading our student friendly objective for the day because I want the kids to be focused on the mathematical reasoning required for story problems, not the story telling itself:

"I can listen for clues in story problems that tell me if I should add or subtract."

Me: Today you are going to act out what happens in stories using the blocks as the objects in the stories. Here’s the first story: 

Me: There were 3 ducks in a pond. What do you do?

Students:  Take out 3 blocks.

Me: Good! How did you know what to do?

Random Student: I thought if there is 3 ducks in a pond then I should start with 3 blocks because they are the ducks.

Me: Good explanation! Now, 2 more ducks came to swim. What do you do now?

Students: Take out 2 more blocks.  I ask a student (I pull random names from a name stick can) how they know to take out two more blocks.

Student 1: I know to take out two more blocks because that's how many more ducks came and the blocks are the ducks.

Me: Very nice! I like how you understood that we are using the blocks to pretend they are objects in the story. So, if there were 3 ducks in the pond and 2 more came to swim, how many ducks are there? How do we figure that out?

Student 2: I put the 2 ducks with the 3 ducks in the pond and now I have 5 ducks. Right?

Me: Show me a thumbs up if you agree that there are now 5 ducks in the pond. (All but one student showed a thumbs up, but I am already aware that the student requires extra support with number/counting concepts).

We continue with this pattern through the following four more story problems:

  1. There are 4 baby birds in a nest and 2 more hatch. How many baby birds are there now? 
  2. Kelly had 2 marbles. Her brother gave her 2 more. How many marbles does Kelly have now?
  3. There was 1 dog. When he was walking home, he met 2 more dogs. They all walked home together. How many dogs walked home?
  4. I got my mom 5 flowers for her birthday. My sister got her 2 flowers. How many flowers did my mom get for her birthday?


We practice this for about 10 minutes.

I scan the group during the activity to check on the accuracy of counting and the demonstration of understanding how to act out the stories. I keep a clipboard next to me with an observation notes page on it to record any concerns I may see.

For instance, one of my students was not able to act out a single problem independently. She looked around and copied the actions of the other students for each step of the first two problems. I buddied her up with a medium-high achieving student who would delight in supporting her learning. By the last story problem, she could count out the first set of objects without the prompting of her partner (5 flowers). The next day I partnered her with a strong partner for the story problem review and next activity. I also met with her one on one for a few minutes to work on hearing and acting out simple addition story problems (sums no more than 4).

Exit Ticket

Since this lesson is the first time they are formally exposed to story problems, I do not require an exit ticket. I rely on my observation notes to reflect on students I may have concerns about.


10 minutes

We start with a wiggle time (I have the kids jump up and down while counting to 20). This helps to get blood to their brain, get out their wiggles, and get focused on the discussion.

I ask the kids the following questions and record their answers on chart paper (I call on 3-4 students to answer per question):

What is one thing you learned from this activity?

How did you know what to do when you were listening to the stories and acting them out?

How can we make this activity better?