notebook icon
ruler icon
Paint icon
Arts integration
calendar icon
lightbulb icon
Tips & Strategies
Computer icon
Plant icon
coffee mug icon
Teacher Shop

Functions in Primary Math

working with functions in primary grades

Functions are such an important skill in algebra.  It’s important to establish an understanding of function rules and how they work in the primary grades so students are accustomed to them and can apply functions in new ways.  In first and second grades, functions typically take the form of cute robots named Function Machines.  Rules are applied in input and output tables based on the Function Machine.  Through continued practice students learn that a number goes into the function machine, a rule is applied, and a new number comes out.

Rather than just focusing on the typical Function Machine robot, I created this Captain Cool unit.  Students become Captain Cool and go on 3 different missions to save the day and rescue their helicopter, super car, and sidekick in order to continue their superhero duties.

Captain Cool Mission

Each mission has students completing a different task related to working with functions and in & out tables.  In the first center, students roll a dice and use the given operation to apply that rule to given input numbers.Applying Rules

The second center has students practice identifying the rule given two equations.  This helps students practice identifying missing addends and continues to work with students practicing unknowns in every position.Captain Cool What's My Rule

The third center gives students the rule while they generate the numbers for the input/output tables.  You can have students choose the numbers on their own, or you can have them roll a dice to determine the number for the input table.

Captain Cool Solve Your Rule

After students complete all 3 centers and completed their missions, they have successfully saved their helicopter, sidekick, and super car and continue on their superhero adventures.  There’s a certificate at the end of the unit that you can give students upon completion.

Kids love pretending to be superheroes and trying to complete each mission.  With 3 centers, it will easily fit into your math block.  You can set up the centers to be completed throughout just one day, or you can set it up for students to complete one each day throughout the week.  You can get the unit from my TpT store by clicking the image below.

Function Unit


I also have a set of worksheet templates for functions.  Each one is just the template without numbers; just print, add numbers, and copy.  There are several different styles so you can find the one that best meets your students’ needs.  You can even change things up by completing part of the input table and part of the output table, giving students an additional challenge with switching operations.  You can download the templates for free by clicking the image below.

Function Printables

Do you have a tried and true resources for working with functions with students in second or first grade?



    • It's a site where teachers can upload and share their created products. Some are free and some cost money. I've found some tremendous resources on there so I decided to create my own. You should check it out sometime when you have a minute. It's now the first place I look when I need a new resource- even before I Google it.

  • I'm pretty new to Teachers Notebook! Glad to find another fellow TpT"er" there…and look forward to visiting your great blog I just followed! 🙂

    • Thank you! Quick question for you- have you found any good marketing idea with TN? There's no forum, and the only way to seem to advertise your shop and items is to add them to the news roll. Have you found anything else within their system? I hate that there doesn't seem to be an easy way to communicate with other shop owners.

  • Love your idea about Captain Cool. My name is Kim Mueller and I am on the Board of Directors at NCTM (national COuncil of Teachers of Mathematics). We will be having the annual meeting in Philadelphia in April. I would like to spotlight your blog and Captain Cool is that is okay with you.

    • That sounds great! I'd love a little more information on how you would like to do it. Can you give me a bit more information? You can email me at tessamaguire at

    • I guess the "identifying the rule given two addends" on the front was enough. Basically, students look at the number on the left, then the one on the right, and identify the rule. The numbers on the bottom follow the same rule. Let me know if that's still not clear.

  • Thank you for giving this as your Freebie on 10-6-12. It will be perfect for my second grade early finishers. I have the on level group so while the others are struggling the other students will have more practice and some fun! 🙂


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.




Scroll to Top

Let's keep in touch! Sign up for my newsletter!