There are several things I do prior to actually solving equations to get students thinking algebraically.
I absolutely LOVE puzzles like this.
One of my students caught something in this puzzle that I had missed the first time I solved it.
In one of my classes we had some extra time, so I had my students create their own. It was super fun to watch them get excited over this and to see their creativity in what they used in their puzzles.
When we play Balance Points I put an equation up on the board and with a partner, whatever the answer is students need to have that many body parts touching the ground.
When we get into solving equations, I stole Julie’s idea found here. If you teach middle school and haven’t read that blog post yet, you need to stop and do that right now. I’m not even going to say anything more about it to force you to go read it. Most of my students will only work on one-step equations. In some classes they’re ready for multi-step equations or some students in the class are. Here is the link to download a couple worksheets I use and an add-em-up activity.
Open Middle also has some great one-step equation problems.