Phrases for Algebraic Operations

Subject: ESL/ELL (English Language Learning), Math

Lesson Length: 30 - 45 mins

Topic: Phrases for Algebraic Operations

Grade Level: 3, 4, 5, 6

Standards / Framework:


Brief Description: Students will identify key phrases in word problems to determine which operation should be used.

Know Before You Start: This lesson teaches the signal words for addition and subtraction. You can adapt this lesson to address other algebraic operations as needed.

Hook: Read and discuss the first panel of the sample comic.


  • Continue reading panels two and three. As each panel is displayed, have students search for signal words that help them decide whether to add or subtract. 

  • As students answer, add these words to a signal word t-chart.

  • Complete the same exercise for panels four, five, and six. 

  • Hang the chart in the room as a reference.

  • Extension: Have students use Pixton to create their own word problem using a signal word. Have partners attempt to find the signal word and solve the problem.

Closure: Remind students that it is important to look for signal words or phrases in word problems to figure out whether we need to add or subtract.

Differentiation: Enrichment- Adapt this lesson to the operation you want to target e.g., multiplication/division.


  • Comic to print or display: Comic.

Suggested Content Pack(s):