EL Support Lesson

Writing About Math Expressions

Have your students evaluate orally and in writing what happens to expressions when there are two or more operations. Use this lesson as a standalone lesson or as support to the lesson Express Yourself.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Express Yourself! lesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Express Yourself! lesson plan.

Students will interpret numerical expressions without solving them and write simple expressions.


Students will be able to say and analyze mathematical expressions using new vocabulary and peer supports.

(5 minutes)
  • Provide an expression on the board with multiple operations that has parentheses (e.g., (17 – 7) x 8).
  • Gather background knowledge by asking students to solve the problem on their whiteboards. Observe how they solve the problem and whether they use the order of operations.
  • Choose a volunteer to share their solution aloud ("My answer is..."). Have students consider what happened to the difference after they subtracted 17 – 7 and share their ideas with their elbow partners (e.g., "The difference increased eight times.").
  • Write some of the phrases you overheard on the board and read some of them aloud.
  • Tell students the expression (17 – 7) x 8 is eight times the expression (17 – 7) and write the comparison sentence on the board.
  • Explain to students that today they will consider an expression with parentheses and say what will happen to the expression within the parentheses when they consider the second operation (i.e., they will compare two parts of an expression without solving for the expression).
(8 minutes)
  • Review the vocabulary terms and distribute the Vocabulary Cards to each student.
  • Assign a group of five, mixed-ability students a new vocabulary word they will use to complete a Frayer Model worksheet. Use the words "greater than," "less than," "times," and "double" and allow words to repeat if you need more than four groups.
  • Model presenting your Frayer Model for the word "greater than." Write the sentences on the board and then write the sentence frames that correspond with the descriptions you shared.
    • "The meaning of the word ____ is ____."
    • "I drew the picture ____ because ____."
    • "An example of ____ is ____."
    • "A non-example of ____ is ____."
  • Assign the five students in each group a number 1–5 and have them label the boxes in the Frayer Model 1–5 (excluding the word). The student with the corresponding number will present that section of the Frayer Model to the whole class. (Note: choose students who are confident in their understanding of the new term, and allow the listeners to turn and talk to their partner about the new term after the brief presentation.)
(7 minutes)
  • Model using the new vocabulary terms with the expression 34 – (32 ÷ 8) (e.g., "The expression 34 – (32 ÷ 8) is (32 ÷ 8) less than 34.").
  • Write 2–6 more expressions with more than one operation on the board. Model another expression (e.g., "The expression (8 x 2) + 5 is 5 more than (8 x 2).). Choose volunteers to use the sentence frames to help them say more comparison sentences using the terms "expression," "greater than," or "less than."
  • Write another expression (e.g., 4 (8 – 4)) on the board and have students turn and talk to their partners. Have partners take turns saying sentences that compare the two expressions (e.g., (8 – 4) and 4 (8 – 4)) using one of the phrases on the board.
  • Choose a few volunteers to share their comparative sentences orally. Throughout the whole activity, write sentence frames for each of the types of comparative sentences for student reference.
(10 minutes)
  • Have students complete a carousel activity.
    • Create partnerships and distribute two copy papers and one construction paper to each partnership.
    • Have partners write one mathematical expression on their construction paper that involves two separate operations and parentheses. Tell partners to leave their construction papers at their desks.
    • Tell partners to rotate to the left and review a different partnerships' expression. Instruct them to write a comparative sentence like those from the Guided Practice section. ("The expression will increase three times," or "The expression will decrease by three.")
    • Repeat a new partner rotation to the left if time remains. Have them write down the comparative sentence of the new expression on their copy paper.
  • Ask students to form new partnerships and have them share their sentences with each other, taking turns reading the whole sentence aloud. Tell the listening partner to share aloud what operation will apply to the expression in the parentheses (i.e., divide, subtract, multiply, add).


  • Allow students to use their home language (L1) or their new language (L2) in all discussions. Provide bilingual reference materials to assist in their vocabulary acquisition.
  • Encourage them to use the vocabulary cards and terms in their conversations and writing. Allow them to draw pictures to support their understanding of the terms.
  • Review the order of operations and the language needed to speak about mathematical expressions when dictating the order to solve them.


  • Pair students with mixed ability groups so they can offer explanations and provide feedback to beginning ELs when appropriate.
  • Allow students to complete the exercise Understanding Expressions and Equations if they complete their assignments early. Tell them to write the phrases and expressions they correspond with.
(5 minutes)
  • Write the following expression on the board and have students evaluate the expression using sentence frames from the board: 45 – (23 x 2). Tell them to write their comparative sentence on the back of their copy paper.
  • Have partners share their answers with each other. Tell them to take turns reading their sentence and correcting each other's answers as necessary. ("I think ____ is right because ____," or "What do you think about adding/subtracting ____?")
(5 minutes)
  • Distribute a lined sheet of paper
  • Conduct a 3-2-1 activity. Ask students to label their lined paper from 3 to 1 and write about:
    • Three key vocabulary terms they need to evaluate the expressions (e.g., expressions, greater than, double, etc.)
    • Two example expressions with parentheses
    • One thing they learned about evaluating expressions
  • Choose volunteers to share one thing they learned with the class.

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