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How to solve equations: In 4 easy steps (+freebie)

“The Risks of social isolation.”
and “What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?” This is what you will find when beckoning Google to inform you about “isolation.” Rightfully, this word holds a negative connotation…yet, it also holds the secret to SOLVING EQUATIONS. 

Who here hasn’t felt the “ouch” of loneliness or shame?
Can any good come from isolating?




Witness the redemption of “Isolation.”
When we solve 2-step equations, the name of the game is “Isolate!” We aim to get the variable all by itself.
The variable, or “x,” represents an unknown value…

Into the unknown…into the unknown!”


Let’s do this!

Think, 4x + 5 = 13. Solve for the unknown.

Related: Modeling and Solving Equations – How to solve 1-step equations

This hands-on, simultaneous processing approach Math Specialist Dirk models for us the clutter-free, Made For Math way. This approach helps our students with Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and/or ADHD move the needle from here to there.

Let’s quarantine that x!

It’s like cleaning up a mess.
When we look at 2x+1 = -3, Dirk reckons, our approach is “cleaning up a mess.” Imagine the living room is freshly tidied, and the bedrooms, well, they look sparkling clean, only to discover the kitchen has exploded! #life with kids. Is this whack-a-mole?


If I just try hard enough…

When we solve 2-step equations, we have to decide “which mess to get rid of first.” This is the law of importance. We make these choices every day too. What’s the best next move? Dirk’s answer, “the next best move is the mess that is furthest away.” Students love making the connection from the models to the abstract (numbers only).

4 Easy Steps*

  1. Who is messing with my x? In the equation 3x = 9, 3 is messing with my x.
  2. How are they messing with my x? The 3 is multiplying.
  3. What is the opposite operation? What is the inverse of multiplying? Division!
  4. Apply to both sides of the equation!

This spelled out, and scaffolded math support that separates the variable is the excellent strand of isolation we speak of in pre-algebra.

No shame here.

Before you leave
Download this freebie: 4 easy steps cheat sheet. It is the perfect reference for your student and includes a few practice equations for them to try.


*We are eternally grateful to Marilyn Zecher for this easy 4-step process

Step 1: Download the Printable

Step 2: Watch the Video

MFM Authors

Dirk Broadhead

Dirk Broadhead

Multisensory Math Specialist

Dirk is a student at Utah State University pursuing a degree in Statistics. He enjoys playing any sport, exploring the outdoors, reading and playing the piano. He works with students one:one.

Matthew Lyda

Matthew Lyda

Multisensory Math Specialist

Matthew is a Blue Belt in Shotokan Karate, a happy husband, wilderness lover, drummer, and a voracious reader! He works with students one:one as well as in group classes.