Simplifying Expressions Math Activities

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Teaching students to simplify math expressions is an important part of helping students learn how to work and think algebraically. This lesson offers activities that will keep your students engaged while teaching them how to simplify expressions.

Teaching Simplifying Expressions

As a high school algebra teacher, a great deal of the work you do hinges on your students' ability to simplify expressions. Simplifying expressions involves knowing the order of operations and how to use it, understanding what it means to combine like terms, and knowing how to work with variables and coefficients. Once students know how to simplify expressions, they are well positioned to move on to more complex work in algebra.

Teaching students to simplify expressions can also be great fun, especially if you work with activities as part of your teaching. The activities in this lesson appeal to different learning styles while helping your students simplify expressions.

Visual Activities

This section provides activities that will appeal to visual learners, who often benefit from images and graphic organizers as they work and learn.

Graphic Guide

This is an activity students can do independently or with partners.

Give each student one or two algebraic expressions to work with, ensuring that they have expressions that are well suited to their mathematical abilities. Then, ask students to make a step-by-step, illustrated guide showing how to simplify the expression. They should break down their simplification according to order of operations, showing what they do using colors and icons to illustrate their processes. Finally, let students share their guides and simplification with their classmates.

Sorting Expressions

This activity will give good practice at combining like terms in algebraic expressions. Have students work in partnerships and give each pair a set of ten to 15 expressions to work with.

Ask them to rewrite the expressions the same way, but use the same colors for terms that can then be combined. For instance, in 2x + 3x = 17, they would rewrite 2x and 3x both in red. More complex expressions will obviously involve more colors. Then, once students have sorted their expressions by colors, they will be able to simplify them more easily.


Here, you will find activities designed to make it fun and active for students to work on simplifying expressions.

Find Your Match

Start this game by writing a series of long form expressions and their corresponding simplified forms on slips of paper, resulting in enough papers for each student in your class. Then, tape one slip to each student's back.

Students should mill around the classroom, guiding each other to find their corresponding pair. For example, students would guide 2x + 3x toward 5x, etc. After a while, bring students together to share what they came up with.

Expressions Ball Toss

Let students work in small groups for this activity. Each group should start with a striped beach ball, with one expression written in permanent marker on each stripe.

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