We adapted some verbal improv games to help students express math concepts with their bodies. We also wanted to reduce math anxiety and get the class collaborating on problem solving.
These games work best if the teacher is very enthusiastic in the role of MC. As students learn the “scene”, individual students can take over that role with guidance. Don’t hesitate to add a prop (a “mic”, a plastic party top hat . . .). If you try these, let us know how they go!
1. Simplifying an Improper Fraction to a Mixed Number:
Identifying improper fractions:
Create papers with large digits from 1-9 and distribute one paper to each student in the class. (Some games may need zeros as well.)
Create a large empty playing area with a sturdy chair upstage center.
Students, holding and displaying their “digit” papers, stand in a semi-circle facing the chair.
Teacher or student MC: “Will the first contestant please come up?” (or some such dramatic statement)
The first 2 students in the semi circle create a human fraction: one student holding a digit stands on the chair while another student holding a digit stands or sits on the floor in front.
MC dramatically pronounces fractions improper or proper – or takes votes from the “audience” (students in the semi-circle). When the fraction has been judged, MC calls “Next”
The numerator goes back to the semi-circle, the denominator moves to numerator spot, and a new student takes the denominator spot (Students go up in the order they are standing in the semi-circle). Two digits can combine to make a 2-digit number, if the teacher so directs.
Reducing to a whole or mixed number:
Now, once a fraction has been judged to be improper, the MC pronounces the punishment: “You are improper. I sentence you to division.!”
A student forms a division symbol by bending at the waist. The numerator crawls under the symbol, and the denominator goes and stands to stage right (actor’s right) of the symbol – still displaying papers, of course.
MC: Numerator, what is your new name?
Former numerator: Dividend.
MC: And denominator, what shall be your new name?
Former denominator: Divisor.
MC: Very good. (to semi-circle of numbers) And who shall you choose as your new quotient?
Students choose a quotient, who goes up and stands behind (and above) the division symbol. They go to the board if necessary, to work out this decision.
MC: Fellow digits, do you approve of this quotient? Are we all in agreement?
All: Yes! Or No! (they try again until it is right)
MC: And do we have a remainder? (if so, the chosen remainder comes and stands off to the side.)
MC: Mr. Quotient, I pronounce you the new whole number.
All: Yeah! (MC whips up the crowd to applaud.)
MC: And Ms. Remainder, I now pronounce you the new numerator.
MC: And Senor Divisor, you are our new esteemed Denominator.
(Once the teacher has taken the part of the MC and gotten this scene established, s/he could let a student take that part and just stand back and guide the scene. Also, the MC can prompt and let the audience respond: “ I now pronounce you the (audience calls out response)” )
MC: Numbers, assume your new positions! (all assume position beside and/or on the fraction chair to form a mixed number or a whole number.)
2. Simplifying (Reducing) Equivalent Fractions:
Place a row of chairs upstage.
Each student in the class receives a digit paper. Make sure there are lots of prime numbers among them.
Students stand in a semi-circle in front of the chairs.
Students create a fraction on/in front of the first chair, using as many digits as needed.
The denominator (or group of denominator digits) goes over and tags some prime numbers to take his place and then joins the semi-circle. The prime numbers, multiplied together, should equal the denominator. The numerator (or group of numerator digits) does the same.
The replacement numerators take their places standing on the chairs and the replacement denominators take their places on the floor in front of the chairs. (If you wish, place students with times symbols in between chairs.)
Each numerator digit looks to see if there is a denominator digit that matches her.
If a numerator digit can find a matching denominator partner, they shake hands and walk away together.
Remaining numerator digits multiply themselves together and tag a number to replace them (the product). Same with denominator digits. Whatever is left is the fraction or whole number (maybe the numerator jumps off the chair if nobody is below.)
Of course, an MC character will be helpful here to guide the process.
Note that if this is not the method the class is learning, the game may be adapted. For instance, the numerator and denominator might confer to choose the greatest common factor. They might take suggestions from the audience. A human factor tree might also be devised with a story that personifies the number characters and tells why they must find factors to link to.
3. Order of Operations / Multiple Step Equations
Ideas include having a director or conductor for each operation and giving them a social status (maybe depicted by different sizes of hats, different lengths of wands, different heights [stand on chair, squat down] etc., or different memorable names which depict the order of their status).
Maybe there is a complicated problem on the board and the directors direct their subjects/assistants/peons to go up and solve the problem – but the directors can only act or speak in their turn as their status determines. There is a grave (but silly) penalty for any director who acts out of turn.
Note that anything humorous students do combats math anxiety (and math anxiety inhibits creative problem solving).