The distributive property can be a very tough concept for children to grasp. It seems that every year, I have to slow down and really take my time with this concept. Like I previously stated in the blog post Teaching Math So Students Get It, it’s crucial that you apply this methodology so students can grasp the distributive property.
Cutting the Graph Paper to Make It Semi-Concrete
After students have mastered the counters, I then hand them some scissors and some graph paper! I provide students with some multiplication problems similar to the above to still keep it simple. Once they have all this mastered, then we will worry about the larger numbers. I’m more worried about the concept and understanding the meaning. I have students then take it, break it up, and cut it into two parts. They then glue it into two different boxes and label each very similar to the concrete method above.
Filling in Plots on a Farm
Since the distributive property is such a difficult concept, I like to move s-l-o-w-l-y before I move into the abstract. So, I give them the next task of pretending they are farmers! Students love this activity because they get to draw and color “plots” of their favorite vegetables while drawing all the possible models of the distributive property to their multiplication expression. I like to use this as a quick assessment to evaluate if my students understand the distributive property (and the commutative property). As a bonus, I can differentiate the multiplication expression!
Once students have mastered this, then it’s time to move into the abstract and practice, practice, practice. If you liked these activities, then you can find them all in my Area and Perimeter Math Workshop Unit, complete with 14 other hands-on lessons and much more! No matter how you choose to teach the distributive property, remind yourself that your students will get it; it just takes time and lots of concrete modeling and practice.
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