So you might be thinking, why you would use paper chains in a 7th or 8th grade math classroom? When I first saw a paper chain as an activity on Teacher Pay Teachers I had the same question. They seemed a little superfluous. Actually, they looked like a waste of time to me and I dismissed them. Then, one day I was trying to think of a novel activity for my students near the end of last year. Plus, I was feeling a bit adventurous and itching for a change with testing in our rear view mirror. I made a template for a paper chain.
My first paper chain
Before I knew it, I had a paper chain created and I used it with my class the next day. Watching my students dig into this activity, I realized that paper chains were actually an ordering activity. It was similar to multiple choice, but students were presented with several more choices. Students also got to physically move pieces around, making it feel different than traditional worksheets. Students worked in partners and I listened as they had such great discussions about strategy and math going on. The students were so engaged. I had to eat a slice of humble pie for my earlier dismissal of paper chains. I guess the old saying “don’t knock it until you try it” came to my mind.
What are paper chains?
If you’ve never see paper chains before, they are problems printed on strips of paper. On the side of the strip (usually the right side) the answer to the previous problem is shown (see above). Students line up the strips as they solve problems, and then when they finish they can connect them into an actual paper chain. In the end, students solve and order a series of
Step by step instructions
- Cut out the paper strips.
- Read the question on the strip that says “start”.
- Figure out the answers and find another strip that has that answer under the word answer.
- Put the answer strip below the question strip.
- Repeat this process until you get to the “finish” strip.
- Check your order with your teacher.
- Glue your paper chain together.
Some tips to remember with paper chains
Usually, when I get to a paper chain activity it’s a skill that the students are very proficient at. If the students struggle with the concept in the paper chain, then the amount of possible answers can overwhelm them. You’ll have to monitor their progress and give a little support to the groups that are struggling.
Also, remember to have students put all of the strips in order before they make the chain (trust me on this!). If they start making the chain before you check their answers, this can turn into a very frustrating experience. In my class, I have the two partners work together to put them in order and then they have to verify the order with me. After they are done then they can put the chain together (They love this part! It’s kinda crazy).
The first time you do this activity, you’ll want to model the process and show them what they need to do. The first time we did this activity, it seemed intuitive to me that they would know what to do. But, no, they didn’t all just “get it” right away. So, I make sure to model the process on the project and show students that the answer to one question is on a different strip (I point out exactly where the answer is listed). Also, I show them what it will look like when they are finished. I found that taking a few minutes up front to really walk through the activity made the experience a lot more fun and eliminated so much confusion.
Holiday fun with paper chains
I like to use paper chains around holidays. You can make them a little more festive by using holiday themed clipart and colored paper. It’s a little thing, but it makes a difference and many students appreciate the whimsy. Or there’s the kid who looked at the hearts on a paper chain and asked if that meant it was Valentine’s Day today. I had to break it to him that it was only January 27th and Valentine’s Day was still a couple of weeks away. So, there may be some students that don’t know why there’s a turkey or a heart on their math work, but for most students it’s a fun thing to do.
Topics for paper chains
Not all topics work great with a paper chain. I find that concrete skills work the best. It also should be something that takes a few minutes to solve each problem or it will be done too quickly. When I’ve used it with quick topics, it really is more for an anticipatory set or a really fast closure activity. The length of time that it takes for students to complete will depend greatly on the topic or concept that is being practiced.
Math Idea Galaxy’s Paper Chains
You can find our paper chain activities by clicking here. Here’s all the topics I’ve made and used paper chains for:
- Taxes, tips, and discounts
- Multiplying scientific notation
- Parallel lines cut by a transversal
- Two-step equations
- Find the mean
- 7th Grade Review with holiday themes included
- End of the year reflection (not math specific)
Using the chain to show progress
This year I’ve been using paper chains throughout the year. My 7th grade Math Lab class has a lot of personality and they wanted to hang up all of their paper chains in the hall in our pod. We made the goal to get the chain to go around the whole building. Every time we finish another paper chain, they get super excited to go and add to their other chains. It looks pretty awesome and they are proud of their accomplishment. It’s a great physical reminder of all the things they’ve learned and work they’ve done this school year.
Last week of school paper chain for any subject
I made a different paper chain for the end of the school that was not math related and that let my students reflect on the school year. It included questions like, “What is your favorite memory from this year?” and “Which classes did you find most interesting this year?” They made this chain individually and they had the option of taking it home with them. Some students really loved it! I loved it because they were into it and it started conversations. This paper chain activity served as a great way to wrap up the last week of school. You can find this paper chain here or you could make one of you own that meets the needs and interests of your students.
Try using a paper chain in your classroom
I have a way of being skeptical of new strategies. Most likely, I’m just being stubborn. I hate it when I find out that my own stubbornness is what’s holding me back. This was definitely the case for me and paper chains. The paper chain activity worked so much better in my class than I could’ve ever imagined and I challenge you to just try it one time. See if it gets students engaged in a different way than you’ve engaged them before.
Let us know how it goes in your class by leaving a comment or sending us an email. We love to hear from other teachers like you about how things are going in your classroom.
Thanks for reading! Until next time,
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