Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Journey of the Isolated Variable, Part 3

Literal Equations

Amber Stokes, Matthew McDonald | Published: August 10th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th
  • Subject Subject Mathematics
  • Course Course Algebra 1
  • Time Frame Time Frame 2-3 class period(s)
  • Duration More 120 minutes


This lesson is Part 3 of "Journey of the Isolated Variable," a four-part lesson series on solving different types of equations. In this lesson, students will build on the equation-solving knowledge they gained in Parts 1 and 2 in order to solve literal equations.

Essential Question(s)

How do I rearrange a multi-variable equation to isolate a specific variable?



Students contribute to a class-created word cloud about equations.


Students solve equations they already know how to solve and then compare them with literal equations.


Students follow a flowchart to solve literal equations.


Students work with peers to complete a collaborative handout.


Students respond to a Muddiest Point prompt to identify any remaining questions or confusion about literal equations.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Literal Equations Exploration handout (attached; one per student)

  • Extend handout (attached; one per student)

  • Flowchart (attached; one per student)

  • Muddiest Point handout (attached; one half-sheet per student)

  • Chromebooks or student devices with internet access


Introduce the lesson using the attached Lesson Slides. Display slide 3 to share the lesson’s essential question: How do I rearrange a multi-variable equation to isolate a specific variable? Display slide 4 to go over the lesson’s learning objective. Review these slides with students to the extent you feel necessary.

Go to slide 5. Students will complete a Collaborative Word Cloud using Mentimeter. Students will go to, enter your generated code, and answer the following prompt: What are words you associate with equations? As students enter their words, display the word cloud for students to see how the words grow when other students enter the same word.

Go to slide 6. Have a class discussion on what students notice about the word cloud.


Display slide 7. Pass out the attached Literal Equations Exploration handout to each student.

Have students work in pairs to complete the handout. Students will solve multi-step equations with one variable and literal equations with four variables, using the same operations to see how they compare. In each equation, students will solve for x by explaining the steps they will take to isolate x, which terms they can simplify (if any), and their final solution in terms of x = __.

Go to slide 8. Have a class discussion on what students noticed about the pairs of equations.


Display slide 9. Pass out the attached Flowchart to each student if they do not already have a copy.

Ask students what they notice about the flowchart. Students should realize the steps for solving a one-variable equation are the same as they are for solving a multi-variable equation. Explain to students that, because solving literal equations follows the same steps as solving one-variable equations, they can use the same flowchart they used in the Part 2 lesson.

Display slide 10. Using the equation on the slide and the flowchart steps, teach students how to follow the steps to solve a literal equation. The first example will be easier for them.

Go to slide 11 for another example of a literal equation. As students begin to comprehend the steps of solving literal equations while using the flowchart as a guide, introduce harder problems such as the examples provided on slides 12–14. Feel free to add, delete, or modify the equations to best fit students' needs.

Display slide 15. This slide provides a word problem example that uses a specific formula. Students will solve the formula for a specific variable in the first part of the problem. Then, they will use their new formula to obtain an answer to the second question.


Display slide 16. Pass out the attached Extend handout to each student. Instruct students to walk around the room to find someone who can solve each problem on their handout.

Make sure students understand that they must get their problems solved in order from 1–10. This will allow students to solve a variety of problems on their peers' handouts—e.g., once a student has solved Problem 1 on a classmate's handout, they can't solve the same problem for anyone else. After a student solves a problem, have them write or sign their name in the box to claim that problem as theirs.


Display slide 17. Pass out a half-sheet card from the attached Muddiest Point handout to each student. Have students use the Muddiest Point strategy to answer the following questions: What are you still confused about? In other words, what remains the "muddiest point" about literal equations for you?

Students will respond on their cards with what they think was the most confusing point of the lesson. Their responses will give you a frame of reference for discussing remaining misconceptions and moving forward.