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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Using Gradual Release of Responsibility

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Karen Hohimer shows students how to break down word problems in algebra by using the BUCKS annotation method.

Teacher: Karen Hohimer

School: Health Sciences High and Middle College, San Diego, CA

Grade: 7

Discipline: Mathematics (Pre-Algebra and Geometry)

Lesson Topic: Problem solving using the BUCKS strategy

Lesson Month: March

Number of Students: 37

Featured Lesson’s Student Goals:

  • Content objectives – Use the BUCKS strategy with word problems to help write and solve two-step equations
  • Literacy/language objectives – Use the BUCKS strategy to help with reading, comprehending, and solving word problems; use academic vocabulary when talking with group members
  • Engagement/interaction objectives – Collaborate with peers to solve mathematics problems

Standards Addressed:

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics

    Use variables to represent quantities in a real-world or mathematical problem and construct simple equations and inequalities to solve problems by reasoning about the quantities.
    Solve word problems leading to equations of the form px + q = r and p(x + q) =r, where pq, and r are specific rational numbers. Solve equations of these forms fluently. Compare an algebraic solution to an arithmetic solution, identifying the sequence of the operations used in each approach. For example, the perimeter of a rectangle is 54 cm. Its length is 6 cm. What is its width?

Instruction Details:

The Unit
The goal of this 10-day unit was for students to solve multistep equations. The lesson on problem solving using the BUCKS strategy fell in the middle/end of the unit. The acronym BUCKS stands for the following: “box” the main question; “underline” important information needed to solve the problem; “circle” important vocabulary used in the problem; “knock out” information you don’t need; and what does the “solution” represent, and does it make sense?

Before the Video
Prior to this lesson, students learned how to solve two-step algebraic equations.

During the Video
Ms. Hohimer used a gradual release of responsibility lesson to teach her students to read word problems more carefully. Students began class with a warm-up worksheet that included mathematics problems involving distributive property and one-step and two-step equations. The warm-up helped students access prior learning, skills, and concepts necessary for the lesson. The warm-up also had a space for students to write the purpose of the BUCKS strategy and recall its steps. Ms. Hohimer explained the purpose of the BUCKS strategy at the beginning of class and referred to it repeatedly throughout the lesson.

For the lesson, students received a handout with four word problems. For the first problem, Ms. Hohimer modeled her thinking (“I do”). Students underlined, circled, did the math, etc., with her, but she did not ask for their input. She was the only one speaking as she showed her thinking process using the BUCKS reading strategy to solve the problem. During the next two problems, Ms. Hohimer continued to model but let her students do the underlining, circling, boxing, etc. She had them “pair and share” their annotations with their table groups and then with the whole class. She also helped guide them to use their close reading annotations to create equations to solve the problems. The fourth problem required students to use the BUCKS strategy on their own. Ms. Hohimer displayed the steps on the board for students to refer to while working. She also walked around and monitored student progress. Depending on student success during her walk-around, she stopped the class to review the annotations or equation setup or to pull a small group together. She asked students to share at their tables and have each table come to a consensus. Students then received a paper with four more word problems to practice using the BUCKS strategy to write and solve equations. At the end of class, students completed a summary on the warm-up/participation handout.

After the Video
After the lesson, students practiced solving more problems using the BUCKS strategy. The next unit was a geometry unit.

Teacher Prep
Ms. Hohimer carefully chose word problems with which students would be successful in using the BUCKS strategy to write equations and included a couple of more challenging items. She also made sure that students would be able to draw upon prior learning experiences and strategies.

Prior Knowledge
Students had used the BUCKS strategy with simpler word problems that didn’t require them to write an algebraic equation. They needed to be proficient at combining like terms and solving two-step equations. Students were also familiar with close reading.

Differentiated Instruction
Ms. Hohimer used the modeling phase of gradual release of responsibility to help students understand her thought process for approaching this type of problem. Each student had the directions for the BUCKS strategy included in their handouts, and it was also posted on a board in the classroom. She paired her students up and constantly monitored their progress during the lesson to give struggling students assistance. The higher-level students were challenged with mathematics problems of increased difficulty.

Group Interaction
Students worked with their table groups during the release part of gradual release of responsibility.

Resources and Tools

  • Problem Solving Using the BUCKS Strategy: Two-Step Equations handout
  • Document camera and projector
  • Smart Board


Formative Assessment
Students completed the four practice problems and turned them in to Ms. Hohimer to be checked. When assessing student work, Ms. Hohimer looked for evidence of using the BUCKS strategy; a clearly written equation; clear and correct steps for solving the equation; and a clear, labeled solution, with evidence of a check back into the original equation. She also walked around the classroom making informal assessments, which included looking at annotations to determine understanding, asking questions to guide students, and listening to conversations.

Summative Assessment
During the final 10 minutes of class, students completed a summary on the warm-up/participation handout. This summary was meant to tie the learning together and make students think about what they had done. The summary was part of “participation points,” which are a small part of students’ grades. After class, Ms. Hohimer reviewed the worksheets and the summaries from the warm-up to see if further remediation or extension was needed and, if so, for which students. At the end of the unit, students took a group competency, which included harder word problems and required collaborative work as well as individual competencies. Those two grades were put together, with the individual grade worth more than the group grade.

Impact of Assessment
While students were working, Ms. Hohimer realized that some groups didn’t quite understand some concepts, so she reviewed them again and then had students return to their own work. The summaries that students completed also guided future instruction.

Series Directory

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2015.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-906-4