Lesson plan

Exploring Probability: What Are The Chances?

What is the likelihood that a polar bear will walk into the classroom? Students will consider this and other events using the concept of probability and the terms: Impossible, unlikely, likely, and certain.
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Students will be able to predict the probability of chance events based on statistical principles and data.

(5 minutes)
  • Pose the question, "How likely is it to snow tomorrow?" Ask students to discuss with an elbow partner and then write their response on an individual whiteboard or scratch paper.
  • While students are discussing, create a horizontal line across the board, creating a continuum with impossible on one end and certain on the other.
  • Share out a sampling of responses with the class and record some on the board. Before writing it on the board, ask the class where you should put each response on the continuum.
(15 minutes)
  • Reflect on the class responses. Ask students how they landed at their prediction. What factors did they consider?
    • Sample responses may include the season, the climate/region where the school is located, or the current weather pattern (has it been unusually hot/cold/rainy in the past few days?).
  • Add the following words to your continuum: Likely and unlikely.
  • Ask the class how their prediction would change if they were in the Arctic Circle or on the Equator.
  • Provide more practice by offering another prompt of your choice and having students rate the probability of that event happening using the words on the continuum.
(10 minutes)
  • Review the four probability terms: Impossible, unlikely, likely and certain. Explain that one area of math that they likely don’t know much about is called probability. It is the science of predicting the future based on possible outcomes and past events. Provide the following examples:
    • Impossible: A dog will give birth to a cat. (This has never happened.)
    • Unlikely: A human will have twins. (This happens but not very often.)
    • Likely: Students will watch a TV show in the next two days. (This happens often but maybe not every day.)
    • Certain: Students will complete third grade. (There has not been a student in your class who hasn’t moved to fourth grade. If this isn’t true then generate another statement.)
  • Have students share out examples of events that they think fall into each category.
(20 minutes)
  • Have students fold a paper into fourths so that when they unfold it there are equal sized rectangles.
  • Instruct them to make a circle in the center of the paper, about the size of the palm of their hand and write 'PROBABILITY' inside of it.
  • Now, instruct them to write the four words in the quadrants, one in each. Then have them write a statement using each word appropriately and a drawing to go along with each one.


  • Provide more examples before moving to independent work.
  • Provide sentence frames for probability statements.


  • Have students find examples of probability in student current event periodicals, like Time for Kids, or on child friendly news websites.
(5 minutes)
  • Instruct the students to use the following body signals to respond to the prompts.
    • Certain: Stand with arms straight up.
    • Likely: Stand with arms out like a T.
    • Unlikely: Stand with arms down at sides.
    • Impossible: Stand with arms folded in front of them.
  • Prompts: With each prompt, allow some think time. Students should be considering whether this has occurred in the past and if so, how often.
    • A polar bear walks into the classroom. (Students may say this is technically possible but since it has never happened before, we would say it is impossible.)
    • The fire alarm gets pulled as a prank.
    • You will have recess tomorrow.
    • You will sleep tonight.
    • You will go to the beach this summer.
    • You will have a field trip before the end of the year
    • Make up some of your own prompts and/or have students make some up for the class. You could also use some from student work.
(5 minutes)
  • Discuss, "How have you seen probability used in your everyday life?? (Sports, weather forecasting, determining a parent’s response to a request for a sleepover or to see a movie, etc.)
  • Also discuss, "How might people use probability in their jobs?"
  • Share out examples and hang student work in the room.

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