EL Support Lesson

Strategies to Identify What's Missing

Let your students explore different strategies to figure out the missing number in an equation. Use this lesson on its own or as a support lesson for *Missing Numbers: Math Review*.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Missing Numbers: Math Review lesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Missing Numbers: Math Review lesson plan.

Students will be able to identify missing numbers in an equation.


Students will be able to explain strategies to identify missing numbers in an equation using visual aids and sentence supports.

(4 minutes)
  • Share a word problem with the class that has some information missing. For example, "The garden has eight plants total. There are two rows of plants. How many plants are in each row?"
  • Facilitate a think-pair-share activity by asking students to think about what information they have and what information they still need. Then, have them discuss their thoughts with a partner before sharing with the whole group.
  • Ask probing questions about what the problem is asking them to do, what information they have, and what information they still need. Note the language that students use, and paraphrase the explanations they share. However, do not acknowledge the accuracy of their answers at this time in the lesson.
  • Read aloud the student-friendly Language Objective to the class and explain that today, they'll explore strategies they can use to find missing information in an equation.
(8 minutes)
  • Teach the vocabulary word "strategy" by completing a Frayer Model graphic organizer. Provide a definition, sentence, examples, nonexamples, and an image to represent the term.
  • Explain that there are many strategies that could help us find the missing number in the word problem from the Introduction. Use some of the student suggestions, if possible, to review some of the multiplication strategies. (e.g., Say, "We know that the multiplication problem in the Introduction was 2 x ? = 8. We are being asked how many plants are in each row. I can use a variety of different multiplication strategies to find the answer. Some of my choices are listing multiples by skip counting, drawing a picture, working with manipulatives such as snap cubes, identifying the fact family, using my math facts, drawing an array, using a number line, or using repeated addition.")
  • Tell the class that they will participate in a number talk. Explain that number talks are discussions that focus on different solutions for a math problem. Share that students will discuss their different math processes aloud and build on each other's strategies and compare and contrast them.
  • Display a copy of the Number Talks Template worksheet on the document camera and go over each section and question to explain the process.
  • Share the sentence supports that learners will use as they discuss strategies with a partner. Write the sentence supports on the board or create an anchor chart to leave up throughout the lesson.
    • I used the strategy ____.
    • I would like to say more information about ____.
    • I do not understand ____. Can you please explain?
    • I agree with ____ because ____.
    • How did you decide to ____?
    • I saw it a different way because ____.
    • My strategy is similar/different because ____.
(8 minutes)
  • Tell the class that you are going to present a problem on the board and give them independent think time to work through the problem in their head using mental math. Then, they'll receive a worksheet on which to record their strategy and answer some questions. After that, they'll have a discussion about how they solved the problem for the missing number.
  • Present a word problem with the equation on the document camera, and give students time to use mental math to solve the problem. For example, "Tabitha has 21 cookies. She gave an equal amount of cookies to three friends. How many cookies did each friend get? 3 x ? = 21"
  • Give each student a copy of the Number Talks Template worksheet and instruct them to record the equation in the box at the top of their worksheet. Remind them to complete the bottom of the worksheet to answer each of the questions.
  • Pair students with a partner and have them discuss their strategies. Tell them to reference the written list of sentence supports to help them in their discussion.
  • Encourage learners to refine their explanations and answers on their worksheets based on feedback and questions from their partner.
(10 minutes)
  • Hold a class discussion by calling on students to come up to the board or document camera to share visuals they created and explain their strategy for finding the missing factor.
  • Ask questions to get students to clarify any unclear parts of their explanations, and allow their peers to chime in as well.
  • Put students back into their partnerships and have them compare and contrast the different methods that were presented in the class discussion. Provide sentence stems to support the conversation, such as:
    • The strategies of ____ and ____ are similar because ____.
    • The strategies of ____ and ____ are different because ____.
    • I don't see a connection between ____ and ____ strategies because ____.
    • These strategies are connected because ____.
  • Invite students to share their conclusions as a class, and record thoughts on the board. Provide feedback and clarification as needed.


  • Allow access to reference materials in home language (L1).
  • Have learners repeat instructions and key vocabulary to the teacher.
  • Provide a word bank of key terms and phrases for students to use in group and class discussions.
  • Group students intentionally based on academic and language needs.
  • Give learners Vocabulary Cards and a Glossary to record new words.


  • Allow learners to utilize glossaries and dictionaries for unfamiliar words.
  • Have students describe their math processes without relying on the sentence stems/frames.
  • Choose advanced ELs to share their ideas first in group and class discussions.
  • Have learners repeat instructions and key vocabulary, summarizing important information for the class.
  • Put students in mixed ability groups so they can offer explanations and provide feedback to beginning ELs when appropriate.
(3 minutes)
  • Bring students' attention back to the initial problem given in the Introduction. Have them take out their whiteboards and whiteboard markers and solve the problem using whichever strategy they choose.
(7 minutes)
  • Distribute an index card to each student for the Exit Ticket, and display the sentence frame "I used to think ____, but now I know ____." on the board.
  • Have students think about the general idea of the lesson and the process for finding missing numbers in an equation. Instruct them to complete the sentence frame independently.
  • Instruct students to share their Exit Ticket with a partner, and then call on individuals to share with the whole group.
  • Remind learners that it's important to have a toolbox of strategies to use when they are figuring out the missing piece in a math problem. Share that the strategies they used today could potentially translate to addition, subtraction, or division problems as well.

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