I love activities that are super simple yet pack a powerful punch. This is one of those. And the good news is, it can be done no matter what grade level you teach which means it lends itself well to differentiation. But the even better news is that it covers a lot of standards in a fun and engaging way.

The main objective, however, is to teach the concept of equality in equations. (I should mention that one of my pet peeves is calling equations *number sentences*. If you’re interested in why, I explain it here.)

But the basic idea of an equation is that both sides of the equals sign need to have the same value in order for it to be considered valid, or true. Too often young students think the equals sign means *and the answer is*. It’s such an important foundational idea in algebra that it’s included as one of the Common Core Standards in First Grade:

Work with addition and subtraction equations.

Understand the meaning of the equal sign, and determine if equations involving addition and subtraction are true or false.

So here’s an easy and fun way to underscore the equality idea. Choose 15 – 20 numbers and create two expression cards for each number. Pair students up and hand out one expression card per pair. The students need to go around the room and find their matching expression. Here’s an example of some I made for K-2:

See how easy it is to adapt this to any grade level. You can even deliberately hand out the expressions depending on the level of the students in your class. So if you have student who need a challenge, give them more complicated expressions.

Here are ones I’ve used in upper elementary:

Notice how the three equations at the bottom require that students know the order of operations! What a fun way to have them practice that.

An easy extension is to have two expressions already set up and then have students place in the correct symbol: <, >,=. (CCSSM: 1.NBT.B.3)

If you’re familiar with how I like to teach then you know what’s coming next. Working in pairs, have the students create the expressions. You’ll have to give them the numbers to work with and make sure that two teams (only!) work on the same number. But it’s so much fun when they’re doing the activity using the expressions they came up with!

Simple yet powerful.

If you’re interested in some pre-made cards, here are two different sets I created. They’ll be available to you free for the next week. After that, you’ll be able to get them on our site. Equation Cards K-2 Equation Cards 3-5

The idea of balance in equations is so important that we included it in our Nifty Numbers Family Math Night kit.