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Learn the Act It Out Math Strategy

Singapore Math Heuristics Made Easy

What does Act It Out mean in Math?

Act it out is a Math problem solving strategy where you use concrete objects (things that you can touch and hold) to represent people or items in the given Math problem and move them along as you read the word problem to help you “see” what’s going on in the problem.

This acting it out problem solving strategy is extremely useful for primary school children who have difficulties understanding abstract Math problem. As such, it is introduced to Primary 1 and Primary 2 students in schools.

How does the Act It Out Math Problem Solving Strategy work?

To act out word problems, we can use real life objects or people to help us relate to what is given in the word problem better. However, in cases where we don’t have the actual objects, we’ll simply replace them with the items that we have such as erasers or toothpicks to represent the objects.

Now let’s look at an example of a word problem that we can apply the acting it out strategy.

Act It Out Math Problem Example

5 dwarves were sitting in a row for dinner. Sleepy sits beside Dopey but not Grumpy. Happy sits on the second seat from the left. Dopey sits somewhere between Sneezy and Grumpy. Happy sits beside Sneezy. Who was sitting in the middle?

How would you solve this?

How to Act Out this Math Problem?

If we were to act this problem out using real people, you can get a few friends to act as one of the dwarves and move around as you read each sentence.

In this situation, we’ll start with 5 chairs and slowly slot in the dwarves according to what we know. As you can see, there are sentences in the word problem that describes where the dwarves are as compared to the other dwarves, and there are also sentences that tells us the exact sitting position of the dwarf.

Which kind of sentences do you think we should start with? If you said the second kind, you’re right! Whenever we are solving any Math problems, it’s always easier to work from the known to the unknown.

Since we know that Happy sits on the second seat from the left, we’ll get make-believe Happy to take his seat. Looking at the sentences again, what do you think is the next best clue we have?

Did you say “Happy sits beside Sneezy”? Since we know that Happy’s position is definitely correct, we’ll work with any information that’s linked to this.

Now, what does it mean when we say “Happy sits beside Sneezy “? This can mean that Sneezy is sitting on the left of Happy or sitting on the right of Happy.

Let’s try the first case by seating Sneezy on Happy’s left and fitting the rest of the dwarves in.

We have 2 sentences left – Sleepy sits beside Dopey but not Grumpy. Dopey sits somewhere between Sneezy and Grumpy. Which sentence is better to work with?

Since we already have the positions of Happy and Sneezy, and this is the only sentence that has Sneezy in it, let’s work with this sentence, ok?

Dopey sits somewhere between Sneezy and Grumpy. Since we know that Sneezy is already on one side of Dopey, this must mean that Grumpy is sitting on the other side of Dopey, correct? Then what about the last dwarf?

Sleepy sits beside Dopey but not Grumpy.

Sleepy sits beside Dopey means that Sleepy can be either on the left or right of Dopey, but since we know that he cannot sit beside Grumpy, that leaves only one choice. Sleepy must be sitting on the left of Dopey.

So after moving around, you should be able to tell that our dear Sleepy is the one who’s sitting in the middle.

Besides using the Acting it Out Problem Solving Strategy for Math word problems that deal with spaces, we can also act out simple real life situations that deals with simple arithmetic.

Another Act It Out Math Problem Example

For example, let’s look at this simple Math word problem on money.

Mario had 10 shiny gold coins in his wallet. He found 2 shiny gold coins while he was at the canteen. How many gold coins did he have in all?

To act out this problem, we could use 10 real coins to represent the gold coins that Mario had at first. And because we know that he found 2 more gold coins in the canteen, we can take out another 2 more real coins and place them together with the 10 coins that we already have.

See how acting out the problem with real coins help us understand the situation better? As we act out the problem, we are able to tell that we can find the number of gold coins in all simply by adding the coins up.

10 + 2 gives us 12 coins.

And that’s how we solve this problem. We did it just like how we would in real life.

Can we act everything out?

Acting it out is great when you have the right objects or people, but what if you see a word problem that involve objects like cupcakes, ice cream cones or cars?

Don’t worry! Since the main idea is always to use objects to guide you in understanding a problem, we can use almost  anything we have to  represent the objects in the problem.

Looking at the previous question,

5 dwarves were sitting in a row for dinner. Sleepy sits beside Dopey but not Grumpy. Happy sits on the second seat from the left. Dopey sits somewhere between Sneezy and Grumpy. Happy sits beside Sneezy. Who was sitting in the middle?

Instead of getting real people like you and your friends to move around a room, we can act out the problem with erasers, counters or blocks that represent each dwarf and move them around like how you would if they were real people.

Now that you have a better understanding of how to solve word problems by acting it out, don’t forget to practice using this strategy with the questions in Practicle!

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