# FREE Writing Expressions Activity: Partner Challenge – Grades 5-7

Do your students struggle to translate words and phrases into numerical or algebraic expressions? This simple, low-prep writing expressions activity will get kids thinking and talking.

Translating words and phrases into “math language” is an important skill because it will help them prepare for algebra and higher levels of math. But getting kids comfortable and confident with that takes time and practice. Whether you’ve got 5th graders working on numerical expressions or 6th and 7th graders writing algebraic expressions with variables, this low-prep and engaging partner challenge is a great warm-up!

## What are Expressions?

Before jumping into this activity with your students, be sure you (and they) understand what expressions are.

Here’s a short, helpful definition of a numerical expression:

Numerical expressions are number sentences involving one or more operations.

Some examples include: 5 + 7 or 15/8 + 12 or (16 + 3) x 18

Numerical expressions contain NUMBERS and math OPERATIONS.

What about algebraic expressions? What’s the difference?

Algebraic expressions are similar to numerical expressions in that they include numbers and operations, but they also include at least one VARIABLE, which represents an unknown number.

Some examples of algebraic expressions are: 3x or 9 – 12y or (4 + p) – 15r

The key thing to note is that expressions include numbers and math operation symbols but NO EQUALS SIGN.

When you have two expressions that are equal to each other, it forms an equation. But that’s a post for another day. If you’d like to move on to finding equivalent expressions try this cut and paste equivalent expressions activity.

## Introducing Expressions to Students

Although I shared some definitions and examples for you above, I would encourage you to NOT start there with your students.

Instead, give them the chance to think about their own way of translating situations, words and phrases into expressions using this partner challenge.

Walk around the room and listen in on student conversations to hear how they think about the wording and the math. Listen to student disagreements and how they justify their answers.

This will give you insights into what students already know, what they may need help with, and any misconceptions that you need to clear up after they finish the activity.

## Writing Expressions Activity: Which Version Will You Use?

To use this in your class, all you need to do is choose which version is best (numeric expressions or algebraic expressions) then print a set for each pair of students.

But which version do you need for your students? Option one includes numerical expressions only. This is best for 5th grade students who are not yet ready to work with or think about variables.

But you might also use this version with older students who struggle with word problems, need further clarification on different math operations or who need a refresher before including variables.

Option two is to help introduce students to writing algebraic expressions. This is a fun warm-up for 6th or 7th grade students before you get into your expressions chapter or unit, or as a quick refresher before working on more challenging expressions and word problems.

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## How to Use the Writing Expressions Partner Activity

To begin, pair students with a partner and print a worksheet for each partner. One student should have ‘Partner A’ and the other student should have ‘Partner B.’

### Using Option One: Writing Numerical Expressions

Students take turns reading one of the verbal expressions aloud, while their partner writes a numerical expression to model it on their white board. For example, if partner A reads the phrase, “the sum of 9 & 12,” partner B would write “9 + 12” on their white board.

They should discuss their expressions together as they work. Do they agree? Why or why not? Is there another way to write the expression?

Once they have each written a variety of expressions (or when you tell them time is up), students take a moment to answer they ‘think about it’ questions and you can discuss the activity as a whole class.

This will help discuss properties such as the commutative & associative property, as well as the importance of order of operations.

### Using Option Two: Writing Algebraic Expressions

The second option (also labeled ‘Partner A’ & ’Partner B’) includes some of the same numerical expressions, but there are also some expressions that require variables.

This option is completed the same way, with partners taking turns reading expressions & writing expressions on their white board.

This is meant to introduce students to the idea of using variables in their expressions when there is a value that is unknown.

Working through a variety of expressions with a partner can give them an opportunity to talk together, to notice & wonder when they come across expressions that stump them & to think about how they might represent unknowns in their expression.

The goal of the activity is not that students will correctly interpret & write each expression, it is simply that they think & talk meaningfully about different examples with their partner.

When time is up, allow them a few minutes to write their reflections to the ‘Think About it” questions & then discuss as a whole class.

Ultimately, this short and simple activity is designed to get students talking and thinking about words and math and how to write expressions that accurately model situations.

And hopefully, it provides a great springboard for math talk in your classroom, spurring students on to other questions and examples and greater understanding.

Want to give this a try with your students? Just use the link below to get it free in my shop!