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How To Teach Primary School Algebra In 5 Easy Steps

How To Teach Primary School Algebra In 5 Easy Steps

Do Your Primary Math Students Fear or Struggle With  Algebra? Then You Must Try Our Teaching Algebra Top 5 Tricks Tricks To Boost Results!

Teaching Algebra Top 5 Tips


Creating programs for Teaching algebra is a difficult component of teaching numeracy.  Our Teaching Algebra Top 5 Tips free printable will help you plan and create successful algebra activities for your preschool, kindergarten and primary aged students. Our Must Try Top 5 Algebra Tips will help you plan and teach algebra with ease!

Teaching algebra in primary school is not a joyous thing for students or teachers. It seems that the word algebra has a ‘bad reputation’ that can illicit terror and fear in the classroom! This bad reputation causes dread, anxiety, and confusion making it difficult to plan and teach enjoyable algebra lessons.


How To teach algebra in Primary School*Some links in this post are affiliate links. This will not affect your buying experience at all, but A Plus Teaching Resources may receive a small commission for referring your purchase.


Teaching Algebra in Primary School

To help overcome this we turned to one of our favourite education gurus,  Dr.Paul Swan, his work is easy to understand and will change how you teach algebra! Paul, (yes I actually know him!) includes simple hands-on activities that are motivating, engaging, and curriculum focussed, just what your students need!

Have a read and use these simple explanations to help you effortlessly create learning experiences that will develop the language, strategies, skills & knowledge needed to “DO Algebra.” You may even start to enjoy teaching algebra in primary schools! Check out the free printable at the end of the post to get your teaching algebra tips!

Teaching Algebra Top 5 Tips

Algebra tips with unifix cubes
Teaching Algebra with unifix


Algebra Tips #1 – Planning

Tip 1 For Teaching Algebra in Primary School


When Planning your program REMEMBER that Algebra is not reserved for High School it is for ALL Year Levels. It is part of the F to Y10 Number & Algebra Content Strand, more specifically it is part of the sub-strand Patterns & Algebra and includes a continuum of skills , knowledge & understanding that needs to be developed across all year levels, including:

  • Apply number sense and strategies for counting and representing numbers
  • Explore the magnitude and properties of numbers
  • Apply a range of strategies for computation and understand the connections between operations
  • Recognise patterns and understand the concepts of variable and function
  • Build on understanding of the number system to describe relationships and formulate generalisations
  • Recognise equivalence and solve equations and inequalities
  • Apply number and algebra skills to conduct investigations, solve problems and communicate their reasoning

Algebra in the Australian Curriculum:

  • Foundation – ACMNA005
  • Year 1 – ACMNA018
  • Year 2 – ACMNA035
  • Year 3 – ACMNA060
  • Year 4 – ACMNAo81 – ACMNA082 -ACMNA083
  • Year 5 – ACMNA107 – ACMNA121
  • Year 6 – ACMNA133 – ACMNA134

Algebra Tips #2 – Algebraic Thinking

Tip 2 For Teaching Algebra in Primary School

Unfortunately Algebra has a very bad reputation and the mere whisper of the word can illicit a huge amount of fear and anxiety in adults & children alike. Math anxiety is a real condition that unfortunately exists in the majority of math classrooms around the world and has been inadvertently passed on to students & adults even before they have tried Algebra for themselves!

If truth be know children and adults ‘do algebra’ regularly, comfortably, and dare I say it, enjoyably without even realising they are ‘doing it!’ For most of us the idea of what algebra is, is actually built on a misunderstanding that it is hard maths with the numbers missing, & a series of complicated processes that involve the dreaded X, Y & even Z!

But fear not… The secret to Algebra in Primary years is not to emphasise the teaching and learning of formulaic algebra. Instead the emphasis is on developing the thinking needed to “do Algebra” or the ALGEBRAIC THINKING.

ALGEBRAIC THINKING focuses on doing, thinking & talking about patterns in maths. It involves identifying, investigating, generalising, reasoning, explaining, continuing, predicting & justifying patterns in numbers, pictures & music.

Do not underestimate the importance of teaching Algebra in your classroom, even in Kindergarten & the Early Years. Experiences with patterns & pattern making allows students to see order in other areas of mathematics, particularly NUMBER!

Dr Paul Swan describes the importance of pattern experiences and the thinking process that should be behind pattern activities, using a model called DSOP which he explains in his BOOK developing Mathematics with unifix cubes. You can also find out more about DSOP in our FREE download!

(Adapted From – Developing Mathematics with Unifix – Dr Paul Swan & Geoff White).


Algebra Tips #3 – Making Patterns

Tip 3 For Teaching Algebra in Primary School

Effective algebra teaching involves planning learning experiences that focus on the main idea or key understanding of Algebra. Research has identified that most mathematics programs are missing certain elements and may be overloaded in some areas. For example, many mental maths programs, designed for multiplication strategies, are heavily weighted towards rote & automatic recall of facts. They exclude strategies for when the memory fails, so students who can’t remember a number fact have no way of working it out, and are often, wrongly perceived as “not good at maths”. In the case of Algebra Programs they tend to overload on the same skill of copying Patterns!

The First Steps in Mathematics Program identifies the focus areas to be included Algebra programs, students need to learn that:

  • We use regularity or pattern to infer one thing from another & to make predictions
  • Using numbers can make it easier to see patterns
  • Describing a number pattern means describing a precise rule that will produce the pattern
  • The number system has a lot of built-in patterns that make working with numbers easier
  • Some numbers have interesting or useful properties. Investigation the patterns in these special numbers can help us to understand them better


Our Must Have Classroom Resources…

Problem Solving Kit
Number of the day Activities Pack
Multiplication Strategies Kit

Algebra Tips #4 – Hands-on Materials

Tip 4 For Teaching Algebra in Primary School

We humans naturally try to make sense of the world we live in by looking for patterns & regularities . Pattern is at the heart of mathematics and they come in many different forms including in numbers, sounds, pictures & objects.

Teaching Algebra involves teaching the skills and strategies needed to see these regularities as well as linking and connecting mathematical concepts. Good Algebra knowledge & number sense are symbiotic, good mathematics requires harmony between these concepts.

Physical hands-on experiences are the key to developing sound Algebraic Thinking. But hands-on is not just for the Early Years Classroom. Individuals need the opportunity to physically experience, create, strengthen, talk & consolidate Algebra concepts, using material s to act their thinking out.

To achieve this Algebra programs need to include hands-on opportunities with concrete objects, or manipulatives. One such manipulative suited to Algebra is the Unifix Cube.

Planning learning experiences for F-Y6 using Unifx CubesDeveloping Mathematics with Unifix / Gr K-3 will allow students to:

  • Recognise Patterns
  • Sort & Classify Objects
  • Explain Classifications
  • Copy, Continue & Create Patterns
  • Investigate & Describe Number Patterns
  • Identify Missing Elements in Patterns
  • Solve Problems using Numbers
  • Describe, Continue & Create Number patterns
  • Describe the Rule in Patterns



Algebra Tips #5 – Classroom Activities

Tip 5 For Teaching Algebra in Primary School


Here are 2 of my favourite Teacher Resources to help plan curriculum focussed Algebra opportunities for your students from F -Y6

Developing Mathematics with UNIFX By Dr Paul Swan & Geoff White

A whole book to help you plan purposeful UNIFIX activities. Recently Dr. Paul Swan gave us a PD about using materials for teaching algebra. During our PD we tried so many hands-on activities using unifix cubes, including:

  • Snakes – A UNIFIX activity that allows students to recognise patterns & create patterns according to a rule (p.30)
  • Making Long Trains – A UNIFIX activity to show students that patterns can go on forever (p.14)
  • Carriages in the Train Shed – 1 – A UNIFIX activity to help students look for patterns, look for relationships between patterns & describe patterns P.20
  • UNIFIX Stacks – A UNIFIX activity to help students use logic & patterns to solve problems (p.28)
  • Number Patterns – A UNIFIX Activity for students to create & recognise number patterns (p.34) square numbers, triangular numbers etc…

Patterns & Algebra with Dr Paul Swan

Algebra PD

More Algebra Resources…

Another favourite resource of ours is the ‘Algebra For All’ Series by ORIGO. This is a fantastic set of books for the primary years.

Each book includes students activities & a teachers page with a script to follow. The script is awesome, as getting the language right is the thing I find the most difficult when it comes to teaching algebra! These books are a must for any whole school approach to teaching algebra, they can help teachers:

  • Plan appropriate algebra activities for all year levels in Primary school  (F-Y6)
  • Know the continuum for Teaching Algebra across F-Y6 primary years
  • Teach Algebra using appropriate teaching Strategies based on Algebraic thinking NOT Formulaic Algebra using the DSOP model (Adapted from Dr.Paul Swan).
  • Know the Key Focus Areas To Teach & The Main ideas of algebra  (Adapted fro First Steps Mathematics)

These books are perfect for any algebra program!



Click Image to Get your FREEBIE!

Teaching Algebra in Primary School FREE Download


Check Out Our Favourite Algebra Resources…


Newmans prompts

Teaching Problem Solving

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Teaching Numeracy


Math Activities To Build Number Sense

Ideas For Teaching Number Sense

By A+ Team

The A Plus Teacher has been a Primary School Numeracy Curriculum Leader and Coach for 16 years and now advisors A Plus Teaching Resources about Teaching Numeracy The A+ Team is Passionate About helping educators to save time so that they can concentrate on the most important job in the world... Teaching! The Team Creates Time Saving, Tried & Tested, Hands-on, Teaching Resources, Ideas, Organisers, Checklists, Printables, Posters, & Games! Visit the Website for Some FREE Teacher Worksheets & ideas! & Join our FACEBOOK Community


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