4 Tips on Teaching the Distributive Property - Make Sense of Math

4 Tips on Teaching the Distributive Property

Teaching the distributive property

Teaching the Distributive Property

1) Make Sense of Multiplication
Students need to make sense of the meaning of multiplication in terms of groups.  Students may have previously learned multiplication as repeated addition, though this is accurate, extend their understanding to multiplication as meaning groups of.  For example, 2(x + 3)  means 2 groups of x plus 3.  Another example, 3(y - 1) means 3 groups of y minus 1.

2) Model the Expression with Manipulatives
Algebra tiles are great for modeling expressions, however, if you do not have Algebra tiles you can either make them with paper, or use objects to represent the variables and constants.  Have your students model the expression.  For example, they know that 2(x + 3) means  2 groups of x plus 3.  So now model the expression with manipulatives.  See photo for example.

Model with manipulatives for 3(y - 1)

After students model the expression have them write down what they see with combining like terms.

If your students see the connection between the initial expression and the simplified expression at this point, that is great.  If they don't, that is ok.  Your goal for this step is that they conceptually understand multiplying expressions. 

3) Model the Expression with Symbols
Now, instead of using manipulatives have your students write out the variables and the constants.  In the photo the expression 2(x+3) is modeled by writing out the groups. 

Here is the model for 3(y -1)

Again, have your students write the simplified version after modeling.  At this point, if your students have not already noticed the "shortcut" guide them through questioning. Ideally you want your students to make the connection so they retain the information.  

4) Multiply using the Distributive Property
Once your students have a strong conceptual understanding of the distributive property move on to actually using the property when multiplying.  Students should understand that every term from one expression needs to be multiplied by every term of the other expression.  Understanding this concept will greatly help them when multiplying binomials.  One strategy I use with my students are circling the terms including the signs. This helps students not miss the negative signs.  

Another strategy is drawing lines.  Lines become extremely helpful when multiplying binomials and beyond.  

If you don't have time to make your own notes about the distributive property, I've got you covered. I created two pages of notes to guide students in discovering the distributive property as well as FUN and ENGAGING stations so they can practice what they have learned. 
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Save these tips and ideas to your favorite classroom Pinterest board. Come back and reference them for ideas on how to teach the distributive property.


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