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Teaching the Distributive Property using Combo Meals

After having to reteach my Algebra 2 students the distributive property, I wanted to make sure my Algebra 1 students had a strong understanding of the distributive property. 

teaching the distributive property with combo meals

Looking online for ideas, I found the idea of teaching the distributive property using combo meals.

teaching the distributive property using combo meals lesson math algebra

I printed off pictures of various foods.  I cut them out and laminated them.  Then, I added disc magnets to the back.  If you’re wondering why I included apples and bananas with my fast food, well I can tell you it’s not because I’m crazy. 

Instead, I wanted to use these again whenever I teach combining like terms using the banana rule for combining like terms.

I started off by asking students what the cheapest way to get a burger, fries, and a drink were at a fast food restaurant.  I hoped they would suggest a combo meal.  While each class eventually did suggest that, many students instantly replied “The Dollar Menu.”

Using my magnets, I created 2 combo meals.  We discussed how to write each combo meal as an algebraic expression.  Of course, the students had to criticize my choices of foods for the combo meals.  Apparently fritos are gross. 

And, I’ve learned that nobody in their right mind would drink diet dr. pepper.

teaching the distributive property using combo meals lesson math algebra

I think my students thought that by making magnets of a certain food I was somehow endorsing it.  Honestly, I don’t drink pop at all.  I only picked Diet Dr. Pepper because it wouldn’t use as much printer ink as other brands would. 

And, on top of that, I’m a vegetarian.  So, I don’t eat hamburgers or hot dogs.

When we talked about how many hamburgers we would get if you ordered 5 combo meals, the students knew the answer straight away.       

When we moved onto problems that didn’t involve food, things didn’t go as well as I thought they should have.  Students could see why we would multiply everything in the combo meal by the number outside of the parentheses. 

But, one student wanted to argue that since there was only 1 number outside of the parentheses, we could only multiply one of the terms inside of the parentheses by that number. 

I had students create a foldable with the four different variations of the distributive property.  I left my interactive notebook at school, so I don’t have a picture of it at the moment.  It was nothing spectacular, but it was better than just writing down the four rules. 

Finally, I had students create their own combo meal on the left side of our INB.  Students had to draw a combo meal of their own.  Then, they had to write it as an algebraic expression. 

Finally, they had to choose how many of that combo meal they wanted and use the distributive property. 

teaching the distributive property using combo meals lesson math algebra

Here’s a student example of left side page.  Students created their own combo meal to demonstrate the distributive property.  This student didn’t draw all of their arrows, but their illustration was much more photo worthy.


Monday 1st of November 2021

Hi, will you be able to share your pictures?

Sarah Carter

Wednesday 3rd of November 2021

Unfortunately, I don't have those files anymore. Sorry!


Tuesday 13th of November 2018

I created a version of this for review today. Students found pictures of their favorite combo meal items. They added their pictures to a google slide on a collaborative slide show. After all pictures were uploaded, we went through each one and wrote an expression to represent the combo meals. As we went through each slide, students rolled a dice on their computer and we added that in front of the () and solved on white boards. It was fun!!


Thursday 1st of March 2018

You are very creative in your activities. Thanks so much for sharing.


Tuesday 18th of April 2017

Yay! This is perfect! First year middle school math teacher here -- I've been using food analogies for teaching expressions the past couple weeks -- started with ordering at fast food places - how we don't say we need a burger and another burger (b+b), we just say we need 2 burgers (2b) -- so this is going to fit perfectly! Just in time to teach it tomorrow! Haha! Thanks!

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Tuesday 18th of April 2017

Great idea!

Broncos BGC

Monday 26th of September 2016

This could easily represent real numbers and how they behave by simply using the same model but using the price of each item, instead of the item itself. So not "fries squared", 2 dollars squared.

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