How to Teach Algebra

One Methods:Classroom Procedures

Teaching algebra is quite demanding and difficult for both the new teacher and the students. Confidence is a great help. The following suggestions will help build success based on being confident, thorough, and thoughtful.


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    Attend school district training to get copies of teaching suggestions and example assignments for the the first unit. Often algebra will receive more assignments from the district math consultants (they're not strictly supervisors, but advisers of sorts) as some kind of academic math coordinators, or services persons.
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    Use the school district's scope and sequence materials or manual which tells you what to teach and when, and how many days to spend on various topics.
    • Realize that the district produced scope and sequence usually does not go straight through the book and has extra assignments, that may not need.
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    Read over the publisher's similar kind of scope and sequence, which goes straight through the book and has some "extra" materials.
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    Prepare or obtain a syllabus to give to the students that covers the subject.
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    Make a lesson plan. Introduce the topic, demonstrate, use student centered guided practice in classroom work sessions; perhaps using groups may work for you.
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    Teach students using algebra concepts that are well ordered and clarified. Review and reteach a little bit each day, which can be woven into the introduction of each days topic; perhaps, you use a strategy somewhat like the following:
    • "As we saw yesterday this is _____ and recently this was ____ like ____". and then:
    • "Today we are extending those ideas into _____". "For example: _______..."
    • "We'll do some guided practice; now here is that assignment: ____."
    • "You will get into groups for this ____." (sometimes for appropriately complex kinds of work, such as to: produce a pattern, a sketch, a chart, list of x,y data a co-ordinates, a description, an expression, or an equation, a relation, or a function, etc.).
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    Do not "teach the book"; rather, teach the students the key concepts and expand on them. While the text is an important tool and reference, you'll want to "unlock the topic" and teach the students through your own knowledge of the subject, using the book for some materials, lessons and as a guide, source of many problems and exercises for assignments.
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    Lecture less, but guide and facilitate more. Use some special real world activity for each unit which may gather data, sometimes surveying or doing some kinds of experiments.
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    Use math vocabulary all the time with some restating using simpler terms, but not just the simple words, so students will know that you think the vocabulary is important.
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    Teach algebraic thinking, using multiple representations: using patterns of growth or decay, using data, visual sketch, graphing, and expressing either a relation or a function.
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    Explore examples of math in the real world (slope, roof pitch, percent hill grades) and other of such things also in everyday life (area, volume, cubic yards of soil, sand or concrete) and in sports (statistics), math that is used for various jobs, etc.
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    Have answers when some students argue that math is useless and doesn't have anything to do with everyday life. Say that:
    • "It helps you have options/choices in life, including college. You have to take one or two math courses for almost any degree in college."
    • "It is needed in the military to pass tests for technical work."
      • "You never know whether you will end up in some kind of technical work where math is needed."
    • "You will need math to help your children and grandchildren with their school lessons."
    • "Math describes the real world with stunning accuracy using repeatable methods. In the words of Galileo, 'Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.'"
    • "Math is fundamentally the study of patterns, many of which are beautiful in themselves. Sometimes, math is useful much as art is useful.
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    Motivate students to do homework, by using it as a small part of the grade. Some small extra credit homework system may help.
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    Use “hands-on” activities planned for each major unit. Math needs to not only be abstract, but practical. Engage students in learning by providing manipulative activities that get students moving about, or manipulating math objects.
    • Use a classroom “algebra-football field” to have the students walk through to explain the movements on a number line and for graphing of positive and negative integers (zero at what would usually be the 50 yard line) or make quadrants, with (0,0) at the origin, etc.
    • Get someone to demo a graph, by shaping the arms, or tilting their arms to show slope. At the front of the room, so that some do not see it backward.
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    Test only what is taught. Make students accountable by testing as needed and as required by the school district and by the state. Also, occasionally use some short quizzes.
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    Reteach with a review and retest if needed, but do it while trying to keep making some progress on new materials.
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    Express happiness about students' small successes when they have the "Eureka moment!" or the "I got it!" Also, praise positive actions saying, "This is so cool! It's great. Hey, everybody is on task, being productive, practicing!
    • Keep being enthusiastic and showing joy about the students and math: "Yeah, you got it" "All right!" "Yeah!"
    • Be on! Be kind, and cleverly clap and say "Wow!" about the class getting it. Let students see, hear and believe that math is especially cool, exciting and fun -- to you (don't ever act like you're a substitute teacher, going through the motions. Do "not" say that you are "bored, hating school, or dull").
      • Represent, sale and promote school and the subject.

Classroom Procedures

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    Post just a few class rules, about 5 or 6, not twenty. Tell them that you will decide questions about rules, but that you try to be consistent and fair.
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    Teach classroom procedures for daily events such as roll call and tardies that do not take much time. Restrict hall passes to urgent use, not for going to lockers and such.
    • Teach management processes as they come up, such as: how group-work is conducted, papers are to show work, papers are to be headed and turned in, and so on -- all these are procedures, not rules.
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    Calculators can be a help or a hindrance, and are useful, but some uses of the calculator are too advanced while students are learning the basic principles.
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    Check out and get back calculators which will require a carefully planned and executed system to be accountable.
    • Use a visual check at a glance that proves that the calculators are all there. Just keeping them in an ordinary box is not effective.
      • One system is a hanging set of shallow pockets so that the screen shows above the pocket (this can be ordered on the internet) where the calculator covers are removed and put away, or someone may swipe calculators and leave only the covers, and it is not obvious at a glance.
      • Another system is a box with 30 to 40 numbered slots.
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    Teach from bell to bell, of course that includes guided practice -- but does not mean long lectures. Involve the students in math. That also means no free time and no free class periods in general.
    • You can have an in class math project (perhaps in groups) with gathering data and posters for exhibit, for something "fun" and engaging.


  • It is very crucial to have students use the same calculator every time or they will remove batteries and punch the screens, and trash them and you would hardly catch the tricksters.
  • The textbook publisher usually puts out some extra work in worksheet form and perhaps you can have access to these. If you make some of your own worksheets, the publisher material may help so you can cut and paste copies on paper or on screen.
  • Develop a kind of "Math Olympics Day" with gathering data, measuring, drawing, graphing and calculating -- for finding and using a relation and seeing if it is a function, set parameters for x, and y.


  • Worksheets usually do not cover the subject well. They skip around.
  • Understanding vocabulary to be able to interpret and decide what to do to answer a question and solve a problem can be the key to doing well on testing.
  • Copied assignments can be useful, but be sure your class is not a "worksheet mill" where you give odds and ends of worksheets.

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Categories: Teacher Resources