The last year I taught Algebra 1, I put a humongous emphasis on translating between words and algebraic symbols. I created this Translating Algebra Around the Room Activity to give my students extra practice translating expressions, equations, and inequalities. This activity is structured in such a way to emphasize that there is not one correct way but many correct ways to write algebra in words.

Looking back on the photos I took of this post make me a bit sad because the students in them just graduated high school. It also shows just how far I am behind on blogging about everything!

I designed this activity to have a quick set-up. You will need to print a set of expressions/inequalities/equations. If you are only translating expressions, you would obviously want to modify this slightly. I structured my Algebra 1 course in such a way that they were introduced all at once, and students had to determine if they were dealing with an expression, equation, or inequality. The other supply you will need is some sort of large paper to hang beneath each algebra poster.

I used a roll of brown kraft paper for this, but you could just as easily use paper torn off a roll of butcher paper. I’m assuming most schools have those big carts of butcher paper hiding somewhere in the building.

Hang the various algebra posters and paper around the room.

Put students in pairs/small groups. I had students circulate around the different posters around the room. At each station, students had to translate the expression from algebra to words. They would write their translation on the paper below the sign. If a group had already been to that station and written a translation, the new group would have to find a DIFFERENT way to express it.

I like the structure of this activity because it encourages students to read the other students’ work, but they cannot copy. They need to come up with similar ways to word things. For example, if the first group wrote “The sum of a number and 11,” the next group could write “A number is added to 11.”

Doing this activity in pairs led to some great conversations between students as they were writing their translations.

After cycling through a few stations, I had students return to their desks. We took each poster one at a time and verified that the translations were correct.

We discussed common errors as they came up and discussed how to tweak them to make them correct.

I switched out the paper between classes so each class started fresh.

Overall, this was a great activity to get students out of their seats and talking and thinking about math.

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