# Tips and Activities to Teach How to Combine Like Terms

I love teaching students how to combine like terms. Why? Because combining like terms is one of those math skills that makes the rest of math easier. And when I explain to students that learning this will make solving equations easier they are all in! While it’s not a shortcut or ‘cheat’ it sure feels like one. Today, I’m sharing a few tips and activities I use to teach students how to combine like terms. These resources really help my students learn the steps and apply them accurately!

## Why Do My Students Need to Know How to Combine Like Terms?

I’m sure we are all familiar with our students’ favorite question: why? Before diving into the resources, I want to share the why behind teaching how to combine like terms.

Combining like terms is a fundamental part of algebra. Our students need to understand because it sets the stage for more complex math concepts they’ll encounter later on. When our students learn how to combine like terms, they start to see how mathematical expressions can be simplified, making problem-solving much easier and less intimidating.

Combining like terms also helps them develop their critical thinking and organizational skills. It teaches them to recognize patterns, group similar items, and streamline their work. These skills are useful in math and everyday life. By breaking down equations into simpler parts, they gain confidence and improve their overall math fluency. This will benefit your students for years to come.

In my experience, my students who grasp the concept of how to combine like terms feel more ready to tackle more advanced topics. They see their progress, which boosts their confidence and encourages a more positive attitude towards math. So, teaching combining like terms is about building a strong foundation for future success.

## Resources for Teaching How to Combine Like Terms

I’ve put together some resources that help my students grasp the concept of how to combine like terms. These notes and activities are designed to make learning to combine like terms engaging and straightforward. Let’s explore these resources and see how they can also make a difference in your classroom!

### Combining Like Terms Guided Notes Wheel

When I start teaching how to combine like terms, I love to kick off the lesson with the Combining Like Terms Guided Notes Doodle Wheel. It’s a fun and engaging tool that helps my students get a solid grasp of the concept right from the beginning. The doodle wheel serves as a reference tool my students can refer to throughout the unit or the year. It’s also interactive and makes learning more enjoyable for all my students.

Each section of the wheel breaks down the process of combining like terms into simple steps. This structured approach helps my students see the process in manageable chunks. They can easily approach the steps of the math concept because the wheel makes the whole process seem much simpler.

#### A Step-by-Step Approach

We begin by going through the vocabulary section together because I want my students to have an understanding of the key terms. Then, we move on to the Distribute section so we can practice that skill. Some expressions will need distributing first while some will not. In this section, we identify whether an equation needs to apply the distributive property. From there we move to the next section: Identify the Like Terms. Once we know what the like terms are, it is time to figure out how to combine them. This is the section where students usually realize that this skill is not as hard as they thought it would be. We finish up learning about combining like terms by learning how to order the terms once we have combined them. This step-by-step approach that has been broken down into bite-sized chunks makes it easy to learn and apply.

The opportunity to color and doodle makes this note-taking graphic organizer even more engaging. I give my students time to personalize their wheels by coloring the background patterns and headings. It adds an element of creativity to the lesson and helps them retain the information.

We finish up by completing the practice problems around the outside of the wheel. These are often done as guided practice so that we can practice applying the steps we learned. When we are done, students keep this page in their math notebook. It makes it a handy reference tool they can refer to all year long.

### Combine Like Terms with an Engaging Color By Number Activity

After we’ve taken our notes with the doodle note wheels, my next step is to have my students start applying the steps of combining like terms with a fun and interactive Color by Number activity. This resource helps to reinforce the steps we’ve learned in a creative way that keeps my students engaged.

The color by number activity includes a variety of expressions students need to simplify by combining like terms. Each simplified expression corresponds to a specific color. My students use these colors to complete a pattern. This makes the practice enjoyable and provides immediate visual feedback on their accuracy.

We start by working through a few problems together as a class. While we work through them, we discuss the steps we learned on the math wheel. I love to guide the process through open-ended questions that get the students to do the talking. After we’ve reviewed the steps on a couple of problems, I have students complete the rest of the activity on their own or with a partner. The coloring aspect helps them stay motivated and provides a fun way to check their work.

#### Differentiation Options

The resource includes two different print versions to help with differentiation. One version has 20 expressions and a detailed coloring sheet, while the second version has 15 questions and a slightly simpler coloring sheet. Both versions ensure that our students get plenty of practice combining like terms. There’s also a Google Slides version where students can type their answers and use the fill color option to complete the activity.

My students get to apply the steps to combine like terms in a hands-on, engaging way. It reinforces their learning and helps them gain confidence with simplifying expressions. Plus, it makes math practice feel like a game, which is always a win in my book!

### Combining Like Terms Truth or Dare Game

To make practicing combining like terms both fun and effective, I love using the Combining Like Terms Truth or Dare game in my classroom. This interactive game is another great way for my students to review the concept while keeping them engaged and excited about learning.

I start by dividing my students into small groups of three to four. Each group gets a set of “Truth” and “Dare” cards, which are shuffled and placed in separate piles. Every student in the group receives a recording sheet to track their answers and points.

Then, students take turns choosing either a Truth or Dare card. Truth cards usually have true or false questions related to combining like terms. Dare cards often involve more complex tasks, such as simplifying expressions or explaining why certain terms are like or unlike. The unpredictability of the points on Dare cards, which could be worth two or three points, adds an extra layer of excitement.

For each turn, a student picks a card and answers the question. Then, they record their answer and points on the recording sheet. They also share their answers with their group to encourage discussion and collaborative learning. Depending on the group’s preference, we have an “answer-checker” role within the group for immediate feedback. Otherwise, we use an answer key at the end of the game to check the answers.

Designating an answer-checker within the group helps provide immediate feedback and sparks group discussions. This role can be rotated so everyone can participate and verify answers. If they are not working in groups, I sometimes place the cards around the room and let them move around to choose cards and answer them. This setup works great for a center activity or getting our kiddos up and moving, which they often appreciate.

### 6th Grade Math Expressions and Equations Unit

When my students need some extra help with combining like terms, I turn to the additional note pages included in my 6th Grade Math Expressions and Equations Unit.

Sometimes I use these combining like terms notes pages in small group settings. This allows me to give more personalized attention and address my students’ questions or challenges. The notes/lesson page includes clear examples and practice problems that we work through as a group. This practice helps reinforce the steps and gives my students the confidence to combine like terms on their own.

By working in small groups, I can provide immediate feedback and support. This is incredibly beneficial for my students who might be struggling. This focused setting allows for a lot of interaction and discussion, which helps solidify their understanding and make the learning process more engaging.

## Make Teaching Your Students to Combine Like Terms Easy

Teaching our students to combine like terms can seem daunting at first. With the right resources and a bit of creativity, it becomes a fun and engaging process for both the students and ourselves.

From kicking off the unit with notes to reinforcing the steps with a color by number activity and reviewing with the Truth or Dare game, each tool provides chances for our students to practice and apply the focused math concept. The additional note pages provide that extra layer of support for our students who need it. I hope these resources inspire you to make combining like terms an exciting and accessible concept in your classroom. Let’s keep making math fun and approachable for our students—one term at a time!

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## Ellie

### New Middle School Teacher Guide to the First Days of School

Welcome to Cognitive Cardio Math! I’m Ellie, a wife, mom, grandma, and dog ‘mom,’ and I’ve spent just about my whole life in school! With nearly 30 years in education, I’ve taught:

• All subject areas in 4th and 5th grades
• Math, ELA, and science in 6th grade (middle school)

I’ve been creating resources for teachers since 2012 and have worked in the elearning industry for about five years as well!

If you’re looking for ideas and resources to help you teach math (and a little ELA), I can help you out!

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