Probability Lessons for 5th Grade Math Students

Teaching probability lessons to 5th graders can be a lot of fun if you use considerable hands-on experimentation. Following these tips for teaching probability will help make it memorable for both you and your students.

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Tips for Teaching Probability to 5th Graders

Terms to Use

No matter how much fun a probability lesson is, there are some terms that your students will need to use and understand. These terms are:

The possibility of something happening (likely and unlikely are also used).
The likelihood of something happening.
The result of an action.
Equally likely
One result has a chance of happening just as many times as another result.
An outcome that can't ever happen.
A result that will happen for sure - without a doubt.


Children will be using fractions to express probability. Be sure the children have a good grasp of fractions. They'll need to understand the parts of fractions (e.g., numerator and denominator) and equivalent fractions (e.g., ½ = 2/4).

Experimenting with Probability

There are several classic ways to experiment with probability, such as flipping a coin. Give a penny to each student and let him or her see how often it lands on heads or tails in a given number of throws. Alternatively, count the number of each color of M&Ms in a small bag, and see how many times they can pick out a certain color (no peeking!). Another classic experiment involves using spinners that can point up to at least six. Calculate how many times the pointer lands on a particular number.

Doing several of the experiments may only add to the fun and will help students understand the concept. Each should be done enough times to give a good picture of the results.

Recording the Results

Children in 5th grade have been working with pictographs and bar graphs since 2nd grade. When they do their experiments, guide them in making their own pictograph of the results. You might then have them convert the pictograph to a bar graph, using colors you designate.

Using the Data to Determine Probability

Have the students calculate the probability of the experiments by making a fraction. For example, the numerator will be how many times they expected the penny to come up heads; the denominator will be the total number of times the coin was flipped. When the fraction has been reduced, they'll show a probability. When they've completed the experiments, allow students to compare results. They'll enjoy adding their results together to make a large bar graph at the front of the classroom. Then explain the correct probability and how to find it without experimenting.

Make It Practical

As fun as it may be to do the experiments and make the graphs, the students need to know what this has to do with 'real life.' Have a class discussion on using probability to help make different kinds of decisions, including what information they'd need for each kind of decision discussed.

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