Teaching the Equal Sign and What it Really Means

We have been learning about the meaning of the equal sign this week. It can be a challenging concept for first graders to understand. Even my math wizards look at me funny when I say that it's true that any number is equal to itself. "Yes, 5 = 5! I'm telling you the truth." Here are some things that I use in my classroom to help teach this concept of the equal sign.


affiliate links



First, here is a book to read to your students about the equal sign. Not only does it give the meaning of the equal sign, but it also talks about what it means in art (symmetry), law (fairness) and team sports (number of players).



A number balance is a wonderful concrete representation of the equal sign. We have a few of these in our classroom, that way small groups may explore or use it in a math center. To introduce, I start the discussion with students' schema--teeter totters on the playground. They soon remember that you need someone who weighs about the same as themselves on the other side of the teeter totter in order to have fun trying to balance it with feet dangling in the air. Below is an online number balance. It's free and great to display for a whole class, which is nice too though not as concrete.




A number balance is a wonderful concrete representation of the equal sign.




READ  Sticky Vocabulary: Teach, Remember, and Use Words Daily


Here are a few of my favorite videos on the topic of the equal sign. Make sure to use the language "the same as" when using a definition of the equal sign.

This next video is very engaging because it uses the music of a current Justin Bieber song, "What Do You Mean?" Of course the words are changed to "What does this [the equal sign] Mean?"

I know Cookie Monster, from Sesame Street, is usually the star of the show, but there's something about Prairie Dawn. I like to think she grew up to be a teacher!

After students understand that both sides of the equal side must equal (or is the same side as the other side), they can then start using this knowledge to make a friendly 10 to add. To make a 10, they must easily know the number pairs that make ten. Starting with 9 to make a friendly 10 is super easy to start! You can find math centers and a super fun craftivity by clicking the image below. You'll find Friends of Ten Memory Game, Snowball Fight, "Friendly 10" Snowmen Craftivity, and "Make Ten to Add 9" Matching Game. Make sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram (@1stgradeframeofmind). This as well as my other resources are 50% for the first 24 hours and I always post about these new resources there!


Share this post on Pinterest! Click the image below.

4 Comments on “Teaching the Equal Sign and What it Really Means

    1. Free is awesome! Love using our number balance, and in first grade the physical one is more manipulative-worthy to use with them first. That way they can really see and feel the weight.

  1. Thank you for the great ideas and resources! Some of my first grade students still struggle with understanding that two equations can be on both sides of the equal sign.

    1. Yes, this can be developmentally challenging for first graders. I hope the resources help you as they’ve helped me in my classroom! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *