Act Out a Problem

Using Concrete Materials

UDL 3.3 UDL 4.1

Acting out the problem is a strategy in which students physically act out what is taking place in a word problem. When given a written word problem in math, students can discuss the critical elements of the text including what the problem is asking and which aspects are relevant or irrelevant. Then, problems can be acted out by actual students, who may utilize props or manipulatives to illustrate what is taking place in the problem. Navigating word problems can be challenging for many reasons including academic vocabulary, reading level requirements and the multiple steps involved. Acting out the problem can bring the problem to life, helping students to conceptually understand what the task involves and aiding in comprehension and problem-solving. Additionally, this strategy may increase student motivation and add personal relevance to the problem-solving process. While math teachers of all grade levels may use this strategy, elementary math teachers are likely to find the strategy most useful.

Implementation Tips

Student Names in Word Problems
When acting out problems, modify word problems to include students' names. Students get excited to hear their own names and this can make the task more personally meaningful.
Student Roles
To get more students involved in acting out word problems, consider assigning students many different roles. In addition to the actors, students could serve as directors (directing which operation to do first), sleuths (determining which information is relevant or irrelevant), fact checkers (double-checking the actors' work) or reporters (summarizing what happened and the result). Think about which roles are most likely to motivate your students.
English Language Learners
Try acting out math word problems with students that are English language learners. The process of acting it out can help to explain and solidify unknown math terminology and increase comprehension of the task.
More Resources
Check out Blake Education's upper elementary resource for [[|problem-solving activities to act out]]. The resource includes task cards, black line masters, and teaching notes and examples.


Early Elementary
Students go to the front of the class to act out one- and two-step word problems involving addition or subtraction within 100, which have been created or modified by the teacher to include the students' names. For example: "Johnny had 11 pencils. He gave Jenna 4. How many pencils does he have now?"
Upper Elementary
In an upper elementary classroom, students can act out multistep word problems involving the four operations in small groups. Students can use the acting out strategy to help determine which of the four operations they will use, which sequence of steps to carry out, or what remainders exist. For instance, when given the problem, "A garden contains only bean plants and tomato plants. There are 5 rows of bean plants and 6 rows of tomato plants. Each row of bean plants has 13 plants. Each row of tomato plants has 16 plants. What is the total number of plants in the garden?," students can use props to replicate the rows of plants. One student can be responsible for the bean plants and another for the tomato plants. Together the students can act out the operations of multiplication and addition that are required to successfully complete the task.
Middle School
Teachers can have students act out problems related to statistics. For instance, when learning how to determine whether or not a particular sample is representative of a population, the teacher can use the students in the classroom as the population being studied. Then, the teacher will make some real-life generalizations drawn from samples of actual students in the class. Students can physically move around the room to indicate their real-life responses to the generalization. Then, the class can discuss whether or not the teacher samples were representative.

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