Fun ideas for teaching summer school algebra

Are you teaching algebra in summer school and wondering how to make it engaging, fun and worthwhile? In this post I collected my favorite resources, activities and links to bring algebra to life. A strong algebra foundation sets a kid up for success in all other math classes. Why not make it fun?

There are two ways to approach summer school algebra: as a punishment for slacking off all year or as an amazing opportunity to change those negative feelings about math. There are solid reasons for taking either approach, but which has the better possibility of changing a kid's life forever?

Having a solid algebra foundation is incredibly important for all math courses that come after it. When I was in grad school, my calculus professor also worked in the extra-help center, which I visited weekly. One night while working on a problem, I made the ultimate error-- I committed the freshman's dream. He pointed it out, I felt a little silly, and he then quickly explained that it's often the algebra that gets in the way of calculus. Finding a derivative the long way? You're using the slope formula. Finding the equation of a tangent line? You're using the point-slope linear equation. It feels similar to how arithmetic often gets in the way of algebra for our students.

So who are the kids taking algebra in summer school? There are 3 types of kids who end up back in school in the summer. The first type are there because their parents forced them to go. I learned about this about 3 weeks into summer school one year when it came out that half of my students were there for enrichment. The second type are the kids with truancy issues. These kids have a high likelihood of not meeting the summer school attendance requirement and then needing to retake the class in the fall. 

The majority of kids in summer school will be type three: the kids who came to school everyday but just didn't do the work. Why? Was it boring? Was the class too erly in the morning? Did they miss some unknown, yet critical, piece of information at some point in their past? Did they butt heads with their teacher? It could be anything. These are the majority of the kids who will be taking algebra in summer school. They can do it, they just didn't.

In this post I want to share activities and other resources for making summer school algebra fun and rewarding for both the student and the teacher. 

Are you teaching algebra in summer school and wondering how to make it engaging, fun and worthwhile? In this post I collected my favorite resources, activities and links to bring algebra to life. A strong algebra foundation sets a kid up for success in all other math classes. Why not make it fun?

This post covers:
Solving equations
Slope and linear equations
Domain & range
Systems of equations
Factoring quadratics
Quadratic Formula
Quadratic word problems

**Next to each resource below will be a (free) or a ($) to let you know which is which. All of the resources in this post - both free and paid- can be found in this summer school algebra bundle.

Solving equations

When I had kids who just could not understand solving equations, I gave them this solving equations flowchart (free). Instead of like terms, this graphic organizer first focuses on the + and - signs, which are visually much easier to find. From there, a series of questions guides students through the equation solving process, depending on which side of the = sign has variables.

solving equations flowchart

I have a summer goal to write all about the ways to use algebra tiles. Below is an algebra tiles solving mat and paper algebra tiles (free). For kids who function on "why?", algebra tiles work really well. In the post with the mat and the tiles are three examples of how to use them to show equation solving.

solving equations with algebra tiles

Displaying student work is an amazing motivator. On the days my students would say things like, "I can't today," I pointed to their hard work on our bulletin board and it got them past their mental blocks. Math pennants are a fun way to practice math and display student work and remind kids that they CAN do it. This solving 2-step equations math pennant (free) is sent via email after subscribing to my blog.

solving 2-step equations math pennant

Multi-step equations can give students a hard time because there is more than one "right" first step. These equations are covered on the flowchart above. This multi-step partner scavenger hunt ($) is a fun way for pairs of students to practice solving. Their equations are different but, if both partners solve correctly, their answers will match.

solving multi-step equations partner scavenger hunt activity

When I was a kid, I'd freeze in competitive situations. When I played baseball and basketball with my friends, I was the next Roger Clemens and Larry Bird. On the field and on the court during organized sports, I hit no balls or baskets. The pressure and anxiety got to me. It was too much! Kids team up in both the partner scavenger hunt above and the solving multi-step equations VTTT math game ($) below. This lowers the pressure, keeping the anxiety at bay so that kids can show what they really know.

solving multi-step equations math game

Slope and linear equations

When I think of algebra, I think of slope and linear equations. The problem is, slope is a topic that was introduced in 7th grade as constant of proportionality and unit rate, was then changed to slope in 8th grade, and becomes a review topic in algebra, geometry and algebra 2. My least favorite unit teaching algebra 2 was our algebra review. It wasn't because I dislike algebra-- I love algebra. It was because the kids totally tuned out. "Slope" was a word they had already heard year after year after year, so in their minds they already knew it. 

But did they know slope? Nope. Nope=slope. They did not. By algebra 2 it was really hard to teach the kids who didn't already understand slope how to find it in a graph or even given 2 ordered pairs. It was just too late for a lot of them by then. 

So now that I've totally depressed you and myself, how can we teach slope in summer school algebra so that it is firmly stuck by algebra 2? This slope poster (free) comes in both color and b&w versions.

slope poster

Coming back around to displaying student work and how motivating it is, kids can practice finding slope on leaves and then display their work on a tree in this slope tree activity ($). On the "I can't" days, this tree serves as a reminder that they can.

slope tree

Then onto linear equations... these linear equations flippables ($) come in a couple versions - filled in and not - so that they can be used as a reference or as a way to take a quick set of notes on the slope formula, slope-intercept (shown) and point-slope. 

linear equations flippables

One of my favorite activities to do when I taught Algebra 1 was this linear equations graphing grass project (free at this link). We grew grass in cups and measured the growth daily. Then we found lines of fit, slope, wrote equations of lines, gave the grass a haircut and talked about piecewise functions. This project brings in so many elements of algebra and would work really well during a summer school session.

graphing linear equations project

To meet the needs of classrooms with technology, I've been updating my algebra activities to include digital versions and also making some digital-only algebra activities for Google Slides and Forms. Here is puzzle #4 of a new linear equations review digital math escape room ($) where students match the graphs with their equations and type the correct code to crack the puzzle. 

linear equations review digital math escape room

Functions and Domain & Range

This is one of my favorite units to teach. Domain and range is one of those things that all of a sudden clicks for kids, as long as they keep trying. I had a group of kids one year that needed extra support finding domain and range from graphs, so I made them this set of domain and range practice cards (free). It was all the extra practice they needed to allow us to move on (phew!).

domain and range task cards

Getting back to functions... this function or not sorting activity (free) is a super simple way to get kids thinking about what does nor does not make a function. There are more ideas for teaching functions (along with the story I tell my students to make functions stick) in this function or not blog post.

function or not sorting activity

This domain and range scavenger hunt ($) is one of my favorite activities. I love scavenger hunts because they get kids out of their seats and working with each other. I included both inequality notation and interval notation versions in the summer school algebra bundle

domain and range scavenger hunt

Additional functions and domain & range resources:

Domain and Range math pennant

Domain and Range matching activity


I love teaching polynomial sketching. It's so fun to see the kids get so proud of themselves the first time they correctly sketch one of these crazy looking functions with parenthesis and exponents all over the place. Talk about a confidence booster! First, I'd give out this sketching polynomials cheat sheet (free) that the kids could use as a reference throughout the unit. 

sketching polynomials cheat sheet

We'd practice sketching daily using this polynomials quick check sheet (free). I'd give a point for each correct answer on the sheet for a total of 10/10. Once all students were sketching correctly most days, we'd move on.

polynomials quick check

One of my oldest activities is this polynomials blueprint activity ($). I have used it in just about every class I have taught, from 8th grade algebra to algebra 2, to review adding and subtracting polynomials.

adding polynomials blueprint activity

This set of multiplying polynomials task cards ($) is a nice activity to assign as an assessment. I often give activities as assessment grades to lower the pressure so that I can really see what they know.

multiplying polynomials task card activity

All Voyage to the Treasure math games come with peer-evaluation sheets so that students can evaluate each other on the work their partners put in. Sometimes during collaborative activities one student ends up doing all the work, so I wanted to stop this in its tracks. You can see the peer-evaluation sheet in the top left corner of this Multiplying Polynomials VTT game ($).

multipying polynomials VTTT game

Additional polynomials resources:

Polynomials Math Pennant Activity

Sketching Polynomial Functions Task Cards

Multiplying Polynomials Digital Math Escape Room

Systems of Equations

I was just about to gush about how much I love teaching systems but stopped because I've already gushed a couple times in this post. I guess you can say I really love algebra. My friend Mandy sent this graphing systems of equations math pennant ($) photo to me. A student who usually didn't do much work in her class completed it. This to me is everything.

graphing systems of equations math pennant

I made a quick check for systems (free) like the one I made for polynomials. These work great to give kids structure and practice because it lets them anticipate the questions they will be asked.

systems of equations quick check sheet

I've made a bunch of systems of equations partner scavenger hunts. This one below is a systems of equations mixed review partner scavenger hunt ($) that covers substitution and elimination. All partner scavenger hunts come with student sheets for showing work.

systems of equations mixed review partner scavenger hunt

This set of systems of equations word problems task cards ($) cards can be used as either practice or as another assessment. 

systems of equations word problem task cards

Additional systems resources:

Systems of Inequalities Task Cards

Systems of Linear and Quadratic Equations VTTT game

Systems of Linear Equations VTT game

Systems Sorting Activity

Factoring Quadratics

I'm about to gush yet again. Factoring is the best. I love how there are multiple ways to factor and how it's like a game. Still, it can be really hard for kids, especially those who do not have their multiplication tables memorized. They'll get to thinking they can't factor when in reality it's a weakness that has followed them from elementary school.

I used to think giving out multiplication charts (free) would embarrass my students during our factoring unit, but it didn't. This one below goes to 16x16 and cuts out the duplicate products so that students have less to sort through.

triangular multiplication chart

This factoring activity ($) is another I have given in just about every math class I have taught. It's a simple activity that relates area to factoring.

factoring activity

Algebra tiles are amazing for showing quadratic factoring, especially when A>1. This set of algebra tiles (free) can be printed on 2-sided paper (like Astrobrights) to have + and - sides.

paper algebra tiles

I wrote a blog post about using algebra tiles to factor here. The free paper tiles work just as well as the set in this photo and are linked in the post. 

factoring with algebra tiles

When students do not have algebra tiles to use, or if you'd like to show them an alternate method, I am a big fan of the AC method for kids who struggle. It's super straightforward and works every time. Here is the AC Method Flowchart (free) that I use.

AC method factoring flowchart

Additional factoring resources:

Factoring Trinomials VTT game

Factoring Trinomials with GCFs Task Card Activity

Factoring Trinomials Quick Check Template

Quadratic Formula (and word problems)

The quadratic formula can trip kids up because of its structure. When students are asked to recreate the "skeleton" of the formula, things can go awry. I made this quadratic formula template (free) for kids to take that struggle away. It allows them to practice with A, B and C without worrying where all of the extra stuff goes. They can focus just on plugging in and evaluating.

quadratic formula template

If you cover imaginary numbers, this complex numbers shown graphically sheet (free) helps students connect these weird zeros with a picture.

complex zeros on a graph reference sheet

And for practicing with the quadratic formula (and displaying their work), here is a quadratic formula math pennant activity ($).

quadratic formula math pennant

Finally we've made it to quadratic word problems! I love these (there I go again). Talk about connecting math to real life! I like to show this clip from October Sky during this unit to connect quadratics to rockets. I then give out student copies and enlarge this quadratic keywords poster (free) for us to refer to:

quadratic keywords for word problems poster

To sum up this unit, this set of quadratic word problem task cards ($) ask students to find the positive zero and vertex x and y, given motion problems.

quadratic word problems task cards

Summer School Algebra Bundle
Summer School Algebra Bundle

I hope this post has been a helpful guide to teaching summer school algebra! You can find all of the activities pictured in this post in this summer school algebra bundle

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