A Peek Inside: Whats Cookin’? The Meaning of the Equal Sign

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

Spring cleaning for teachers is actually in the summertime, right?  One of my projects this summer is to print out and bind all of my TpT units.  I picked up a spiffy little desktop binding machine, and I’m ready to undertake the task.  What’s cool about this project is it gives me a chance to refamiliarize myself with the work I’ve done the past year and a half.  It’s been a whirlwind!

Tonight I bound up What’s Cookin’? The Meaning of the Equal Sign.  Back in November, I blogged about CCSSM 1.OA.7, Understand the meaning of the equal sign, and determine if equations involving addition and subtraction are true or false.  That blog post actually inspired me to create the What’s Cookin’ unit.

The first activity in the unit is a work mat that can be used to build equations with the cards provided.  Four sets of cards are included: addition within 10, subtraction within 10, addition from 11-20, and subtraction from 11-20.  The sets are labeled Set A, B, C, and D to help keep them straight.  You might also want to copy them on different colors of cardstock.  Of course you can also combine cards from the sets.

This activity is great for small group instruction or a workstation.  It can be easily differentiated by choosing different cards based on student needs.  Notice in the pictures below that I also put ten-frames with the activity to provide concrete support.  Students choose two cards, place them on the mat, and determine if the equation is true of false.  You could have them record their work in their math journal for accountability.  There are also work mats with < and > signs in place of the equal sign.

Here’s an example of a true equation
And here is one that is false
The next activity is one of my Capture 4 games.  I love Capture 4, because it incorporates strategy, which is great for sharpening problem-solving skills.  Two players share the board.  Each player needs a handful of markers for the board.  I like transparent discs (like the one shown), because you can still see the number underneath.  There are two sets of cards–one with addition only equations and one with addition and subtraction mixed.  Both sets of cards are played with the same board.
In this example, Player 1 chose the card shown: 3 + 0 = 2 + £.  Notice how the ten frames provide support for finding the answer,  which is 1.  There are four different spaces on the board with the number 1, so players have a choice about where to put their marker.  The goal is to get four spaces in a row.

There are two Scoot games included in this unit–one with addition equations from 11-20 and another with addition and subtraction equations from 11-20.  Scoot is an engaging practice game that gets students up and out of their desks.  There are 36 cards in each Scoot deck to accommodate large classes.  Each student, or pair of students, needs a recording sheet.  Place the cards around the room.  Students go from card to card, solve the equation, and write the solution on their recording sheet.  Notice that in the picture I included double ten-frames and counters for concrete support.
On Card 4, the card shown, an 8 makes the equation true.  See how 8 is written on the recording sheet for Number 4?  The cards and recording sheet can also be placed in a workstation for independent or partner work.
Next up are some good old-fashioned dominoes.  Notice that the kiddos have to create true equations when placing the dominoes.  There are two sets of dominoes–one with sums to 10 and one with sums from 11-20.
I don’t know about you, but I LOVE games that only require a number cube and a game board.  For this game, each player needs a game board.  Play alternates, with a player rolling the number cube and placing the number in one of the spaces on the game board.  As the board fills up with numbers, if you can’t fill in a space, you lose your turn.  I suggest putting the game boards into plastic sleeves and letting the kiddos use wipe-off markers.  If you feel that you need accountability, have them copy their equations in their math journal.
Head on over to my TpT store and grab your own What’s Cookin’ unit!   🙂



  1. Lisa Bee (Grade 4 Buzz)

    That’s a great looking unit!
    Grade 4 Buzz

    • Donna Boucher

      Thanks, Lisa!! 🙂

  2. Erin

    Thank you again for your wonderfully thought out and solid unit! I am making number bracelets and rekenreks today with my soon to be second grader for my own class of students (and a set for her too!) I am so appreciative of all that you have done. I am definitely a stronger math teacher for my struggling students since I began running a workshop type math class. Your units and games/activities have helped build those skills!!

    • Donna Boucher

      What a SWEET comment, Erin! Thanks so much for taking the time to leave it. Have fun with your DIY factory!!

  3. TheElementary MathManiac

    Your stuff is wonderful and your blog posts are so good! You have taken the big ideas of early numeracy and additive reasoning and explained them in a very teacher friendly way. You blog has become the go-to place I send teachers I work with after I have a conversation with them about different big mathematical ideas. I can usually find a blog post or two to send to them as a follow up. It has really increased teacher capacity for teaching math in my school.


    The Math Maniace

    • Donna Boucher

      You guys are really filling my bucket today, Tara!! I want you to know how appreciative I am of your thoughtful comment. I love sharing my passion for math, and it’s always nice to hear that I’m helping teachers and students. 🙂

  4. MK

    Hi Donna!

    I just read about the true/false routine in Number Sense Routines. Could you use the work mats for multiplication and division equations, as well?

    Mary Kate
    Windy City Learning

    • Donna Boucher

      Absolutely, Mary Kate! In fact, you could mix any of the operations. For example, 20 ÷ 5 = 3 + 1. 🙂

  5. Nancy C

    I teach fourth grade and sometimes I was teaching younger learners…then I think “These would still be perfect for my students” as working on number sense is something that is on going. Your posts are making me excited to go back to school.

    Thanks Donna!

    • Donna Boucher

      What a sweet comment, Nancy! And you’re right about older kids benefiting from activities like this. I taught 5th grade for many years, and lots of my kiddos had very poor number sense. I think that’s why I am so fascinated with how to teach it now!

  6. Kim

    Do you sell just the dominoes in your store? Great ideas as always!

    • Donna Boucher

      No, Kim, the dominoes are just a part of the unit. Although, you’re the second person to ask me that, so maybe I should think about it! Ha ha.

  7. Nora

    Wow thank you so much for this post. My firsties need as much concrete experiences as possible when it comes to number sense. Question-to meet the standard, should a student also be able to identify a missing addend to balance the equation? I was looking at your example above where 8 was the missing addend. I’m in my second year so I’m still learning and unpacking the standards. Thank you, 🙂

    • Donna Boucher

      Hey, Nora! The way I read the standard, I’d say they only have to identify if a statement is true or false. Personally, I’m always going to extend the activity as many different ways as I can. 🙂


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