The Birthday Girl & The Four Bears

Print Lesson


SWBAT create a subtraction word problem, with words, illustrations, a number line, and an equation.

Big Idea

We use a natural occurrence--a birthday(!) and some teddy bears--to practice writing, showing, and solving a word problem together.

Attention Grabber / Introduction

5 minutes

We have 4 bears in our class, and I put them out in the middle of our “meeting spot.”  I ask the birthday girl, who is also my helper of the day, to pick up bear or a few bears.  She quickly takes one bear with a smile.

“Hmm… Looks like we could have some math here,” I say, with a smile of my own.  “How could we make Iylia and the 4 bears a math story?” I ask.

A student blurts, “4!” 

“4 what??” I ask, smiling even bigger.  I love it when I have a plan, and even the blurters fall right into place.

We need to write a word problem about Iylia and the 4 bears.  

Guided Practice

20 minutes

Iylia, the birthday girl, sits down with a bear on her lap. I pass out some really cute, free word problem recording pages that my colleague found online.

Together, we write a story. “There were 4 bears. Iylia took one bear. How many bears are left?”

My writing part of the story problem is projected up on “the big screen,” but the kiddos tell me what to write and after each sentence, I make my way around to check for things like spaces between words.

Next, Iylia and our local college practicum student help me pass out 4 little bear stickers for each student to stick in the illustration section. Some kiddos put an X over one bear sticker, but other students actually peel off a sticker and trace around its outline. The kiddos really seem to enjoy the novelty of using little stickers for their math (MP.4).

Next, a student is called up to circle the beginning number on the number line as our beginning number for our word problem. The 4 is circled and projected up front, and I circulate around to make sure students have the 4 circled on their pages, as well.

A different student bounces back one on the number line, and finally, our birthday girl is called up to write the number sentence at the bottom of the page. While all of this group practice goes on, I am constantly circulating to make certain that students are correctly forming numbers (MP.2) and using their number lines correctly (MP.5)

At the end of our lesson, one of my brightest little students points out, “Now we're ready for Goldilocks and the 3 bears!”


10 minutes

As we wrap up our lesson, conversation occurs, as it does every day at the end of math. Someone raises a hand and announces a great idea: have the birthday kid be the star of a math story problem every time we have a birthday! It’s actually not a bad idea, and I tell the kiddos that I will seriously think about that and see if I can find a way to incorporate that next year. I ask a tough question, though: “What if we have a birthday kid, say, back in August, long before we have learned addition or subtraction?”  The kiddos are as stubborn as their goofy teacher, though, and insist that I could make a sorting activity or a shape activity or any other activity… about the birthday kid. I promise to think about their suggestion and figure something out.