Combining Like Terms

Introduction - Like Terms

Prior to teaching students how to combine like terms, I spend time defining and identifying like terms. First, we discuss the definition of like terms using the ‘combining like terms’ notes. Next, we practice identifying like terms with a ‘color sort’ quick check. A version of this is available in my digital notes, but you can also access a free version here. On the ‘color sort’ quick check, students will highlight the cells of like terms the same color. We then spend a few minutes going over the answers.

Combining Like Terms Notes

Once this activity is completed, we start into ‘combining like terms.’ I have taught this topic in a variety of ways using both digital and paper notes. I like to use the analogy, “combining like terms is like organizing your closet.” I talk about how you can group your clothing by type (long sleeve, short sleeve, tank tops, etc.) and then hang them together in your closet. Prior to simplifying the expression, it is just like having a pile of clothes on the floor in a big ol' mess . Naturally they all say, "oh yeah, that sounds like my room!" Simplifying an expression by combining like terms is essentially organizing that pile of clothes into your closet. You group your expression by like terms and then combine them together.

When teaching combining like terms, I like to teach a variety of methods. Initially, I prefer students use the closet method. This takes longer, but students can develop a deeper understanding of what they are trying to accomplish. Next, I allow students to use a color method, shape method or the loop method. Images of each method from my digital notes can be seen below. Click on the images to check out the digital notes I have available for download.


Once I have gone over the notes, we practice using a variety of activities. First, I like to use an activity called, “Who Ate My Ice Cream?” During this activity, students will simplify a variety of expressions. Once completed, they will look for their answer on the bottom of the page. In the end, only one problem will remain without a match… and that creature ate your ice cream.

A second practice resource I like to use is called, "Where's My Stick Student?" Students simplify various expressions. Their answers tell them information about their stick student. In the end, they will get to decorate the room of their stick student.

Once students complete the, “Who Ate My Ice Cream” activity, I like to challenge students a bit with a pyramid activity. Students combine like terms on each row until they reach the top. By the end, they should all have the same value in their top box. If not, they made a mistake somewhere throughout the pyramid.

You can purchase the stick student activity in my TpT store and the ice cream + pyramid activities are available for free. Click the images to check them out.