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Word Problems

Compiled By: kristen_teach

Tired of Word Problems in math? Kids frustrated or just not doing well? Help is on the way!

Word Problems
Posted by: RM

I've had this problem with students before. To help with the word problems I use UPS Check. The

U- stands for Understand. They ask themselves some simple questions...What do I know from the problem? What do I need to know? In the beginning they have to write the answers to these two questions for each word problem.

P- Plan. The have to make a plan to solve the problem. How will you solve the problem? Again, they write it out.

S- solve. Solve the problem and show all of their work.

Check- Prove their answer. They cannot use the same problem they used for the solve. Ex. If it was a subtraction problem they would have to add to prove the answer.

It takes alot of time in the beginning, but once they learn the thinking process for solving word problems it's much quicker. Most kids usually only have to write everything out for a couple of weeks. I have other kids who develop a short hand and rely on UPS all year long.

Let me know if you have any questions.


math word problems
Posted by: Carolyn

They have probably just not had a lot of practice with them. I think that if you offer them practice with word problems each day, then they will feel more confident about solving them. I teach fifth grade, and I assign word problems for homework each evening. We check them at the beginning of each math class before we move on to the new stuff.

Try some strategies: Use concrete materials. Also, a good idea is to have the children model the problem with pictures. Give them a strategic plan to work with. Circle the key words. Determine which words in the story problem signal addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division.

It's always much easier, it seems, for kids just to pick up a problem like 143 x 5 and do it. However, make sure that they understand what 143 x 5 means. Some of them don't, surprisingly. They are just performing a rote task. Concept development and understanding helps kids with story problems.

Just keep practicing each day. I know they will get it with patience and practice.

Word Problems
Posted by: Elaine

Along with those tips mentioned by the previous poster, you may want to try a strategy I use called SOLVED.

S = state the problem (identify question)
O = options to use (add, subtr., mult., etc.)
L = links to the past (useful prior knowledge)
V = visual aids (diagram, chart, # sentence, etc.)
E = execute the answer (do the math)
D = do look back (check resonableness of answer)

At first when I introduce the stategy we go over the letters and their meanings. Then I create practice worksheets with an EASY (at first) word problem at the top of each page and SOLVED down the left side, allowing plenty of space between each letter for students to show their mathematical reasoning and work.

Students are required to write something in for every letter of SOLVED. I use a scoring guide, and students know that they can earn more points for showing evidence of using the strategy with minor computation errors than if they show no evidence of strategy use but get the correct answer.

After awhile, I don't hand out the prepared sheets. Students just know to write the letters down the left side of their own paper. At first my students try to convince me that they don't need SOLVED to get the answers. I assure them that when the problems get harder, SOLVED will most certainly come in handy.

It's exciting to see students who originally have no idea (and no confidence in themselves) about how to even approach a word problem beam with pride when they find success using SOLVED.

To make it fun, challenge students to make up a chant or rap for the acronym SOLVED!

Poster Board Problems
Posted by: Lori


I do this several ways.

You can put the problems on the poster board -- say for fractions. Then give the problems to the students on a sheet of paper to do on a review day or a pre-test day. As you go over the problems, you can have students who get the problems correct write the answer on the board.

Another way is to give groups of students a strip. Let them work on the problems on their strip together using scrap paper. When they think they have their answer write it on the strip -- if they are really difficult, say for an honors class, they will check with the instructor first -- Correct strips are added to the border.

I change the strips with the topic we are covering -- for example, fractions, decimals, long division, multiplication, etc. so the same border does not stay up for the whole year. You can constantly change the borders changing one strip at any time. Sometimes to work a border strip is a reward for students who have finished their daily work.

Another variation is to write a word problem on the strips and then post around a board covered in plain white butcher paper. Students can write their solutions on the paper. My students sign their name to their solutions and correct answers get a bonus point or trip to the prize chest, etc.

Hope that helps clarify a bit. To start with so that your board is not "naked" you could put unsolved problems on the strips and use the first method. Then as the year progresses you can let them work the problems before changing the border.

Also, if you have varying levels in your class and need to differentiate instruction, you can make easier problems in one color, medium difficult problems in another, and honors problems in yet another color. Students can work their way up as they get more proficient.


word problems
Posted by: denisealice


We just had a math teachers meeting and talked about this very thing. I teach first but we all agreed that one of the best ways to deal with word problems is: multiple readings of the problem, determine what you're going to do (are we adding, sub, etc.), draw pictures, use manipulatives, and/or whatever need be - and work out each layer of the problem so that it can be seen(showing all your work kind of thing.) Also - make the kids talk through the steps (even if they are wrong it helps to know what they thought in the process.) It also makes it all stop at the teacher because ultimately the teacher has to be able to walk the kids through the process. What helped us was that we are all using the same basic strategies so the kids will hear it from year to year. I sure hope this helps. As a child I hated word problems - and now I love teaching them and getting the kids to enjoy them.

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Daily Word Problems by Evan Moor
Posted by: SunnyGals

When I taught 4th, the kids struggled with word problems. I used the book DAILY WORD PROBLEMS 4th grade by Evan Moor and this really helped. I would have 3 kids voluntarily come up to the white board and "explain their thinking" and how they got their answer. As you could imagine, some used #'s, pictures, manipulatives, etc. This did wonders in with my class as they began to understand how to pull apart the word problem to decide exactly what it is asking. I am a very visual problem solver and always used pictures. It really helped some kids to "see" the problem.

*Daily Word Problems does come in a 5th grade version

My daughter who was in 4th last year, was having a hrd time with words problems so I started having her "draw" out the problem- she thought that was so "baby-ish". It really helped her and she still uses visuals to "see" the problem as a mini story.

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word problems
Posted by: Sue W.

First step, check out the vocabulary. If they can't read it, they can't work it. Math books don't necessarily use the same vocabulary as grade level language arts.

Do they need background information ? ELL kids, or those with limited experiences may have difficulty at this point.

Second, help them locate key phrases that signal the process; how many are left, how many in all, etc.

Third, as a group, build a chart. 1. What do you already know from the problem? 2. What are you sked to find? 3. What process will give you that information? 4. Does your answer make sense?

When they start to get the idea, have them follow a pattern to write their own problems to "trade and try". For example, everyone writes a "how many are left" type problem. You need to set limits, such as only 2 digit numbers, and it has to work, no negative answers at this point, not to mention that it has to be readable. That is a good way to become more familiar with the way word problems are structured, and the kids think it is fun to show off their ideas.

work problems=(
Posted by: ALI

I don't like word problems at all! One thing I do with my students is tell them to read the problem and then read the question it is asking. Then we underline the important information we NEED to know in order to solve the problem. We cross out the information that is not important. For example, Timmy went to a baseball game for his birthday. He brought 10 friends. Each friend ate 2 hotdogs. How many hotdogs did they eat in all? It's really not important to know that Timmy went to the baseball game for his birthday. That doesn't help us solve the problem, so we cross that out. Word problems can look overwhelming, so crossing out what we don't need to know helps. I also tell them to visualize the word problem in their head-picture 10 friends sitting in a row at a game, and each friend is holding 2 hotdogs in their hands.

For my students who may have trouble visualizing that, I allow them to draw a picture. Ultimately we get away from that, but when learning a new concept whether it be division or multiplication it helps to use manipulatives and pictures. They may draw 10 bodies and each one holding two hotdogs. Then I get them to write 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 to represent each friend holding two hotdogs using numbers. Then we go from there.

I'm no expert at this, but it helps my students. I would definitely appreciate more helpful hints too!

word problems strategies
Posted by: Danielle

If it helps at all, in my basic skills classes we use the problem solving approach called TINS. (Thought, Information, Number Sentence, Solution Sentence.) It comes from the book, It's Elementary 275 Math Word Problems by M.J. Owen. Basically when reading a word problem students circle key words and note their THOUGHT about the operation they should use. (Ex - circle words like in all, total, altogether). Next they circle and write down the important INFORMATION from the problem (Ex. 6 cats, 4 dogs, dogs and cats). This is where you encourage students to draw a picture of the information they have found. Then students write thier information as a number sentence and then answer thier sentence in the solution sentence. I hope that made sense, the book is very good, and it really helps my kids focus and stay on task.

word problems
Posted by: nicole

I saw a teacher do this one time for word problems: She put one sentence each of the story problem on a sentence strip (enough for each group), the group had to put the problem into a logical order, then see what the question was asking, take out the sentences that were not needed (extra information not nesicary for solving the problem), then solve. It was great! I haven't had a chance to do this in my class yet because I only teach LA for now, but I can't wait to try it out, her kids had so much fun with it.

word problem solving
Posted by: Cece


As far as the the word problems go, my students really are struggling with word problems. However, I taught the kids to draw pictures for word problems. sometimes I do the reverse of a word problem. I give them a number sentence (say 8x6), give them a whiteboard, and ask them to draw a picture of what 8x6 looks like, and write their own word problem to it. I have made a list of those "key words", and ask them to use the key words in their problem. They really enjoy being the author of a word problem!

Personalized Halloween Word Problems
Posted by: 1956BD

I wrote these problems for my students a few years ago. Now I just change the names each year to my new student names. For some reason it is more fun to do math when the problems are about the holiday and have "your" name in them. Go figure. They probably are too easy for your fifth graders, but it will give you an idea to work with.

Good luck and have a happy Halloween.

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word problems
Posted by: csteach

I have my students make two charts to help them with problem solving. The first chart is divided into fourths and students write down clue or key words that tell them which operation to use. The second chart is divided into sixths and students label each part with a different strategy. Then they find examples from the text that fit each strategy. They write down the words and or phrases that signal "make a table", "guess and check", "find a pattern", etc... They also use a different colored pen to write out and example of how they would solve the problem for the strategy.
For example with guess and check they would write in red _____ + _____=______. This reminds them how to set the problem up once they know which strategy to use. Their papers are kept in plastic sleeves and they use them throughout the year.

problem solving
Posted by: Katy

I highly recommend this book:

Introduction to Problem Solving: Strategies for the Elementary Math Classroom
by Susan O'Connell (Author)

I teach one problem solving strategy at a time and everyone needs to use that strategy to solve the problem so they get practice with it. Drawing a picture is one strategy. There are also: looking for a pattern, making an organized list, making a table, choosing an equation, etc. After children learn the different strategies, when they get a word problem they are better equiped to solve it. I try to teach my students the difference between a problem-solving strategy and a computational strategy. I want children to understand that if they are solving 36 + 28, they don't have to draw 36 circles and 28 circles but they could still use the draw a picture strategy. They can draw base ten blocks.

Problem Solving
Posted by: Nichole


I used to team teach and a good lesson for that coulod be problem solving. Develop 5 problem solving questions that could be solved multiple using multiple methods. Write one of the problems on the board or chart paper for the kids to see. Have one teacher read the question outloud and model her thinking process for how she would solve the problem. Then have the other teacher say, "great idea. I thought about solving it this way." Then have her model another way to solve the problem. DO this for at least 3 problems while the class watches on. Then hand out 2 word problems for students to solve. Have them pair/share with a partner how they solved the probelm. Then bring the whole group together to share problem solving strategies.

I hope this helps!

problem solving
Posted by: JS

By problem solving I'm assuming you mean solving word problems??? If so, I have a 6 step strategy that I have posted and the children HAVE to do it in their math notebooks whenever they come across a word problem.
Step 1: Read the problem carefully.
Step 2: Underline the question.
Step 3: Circle the facts needed to solve the problem.
Step 4: Solve the problem.
Step 5: Answer the question in a complete sentence.
Step 6: Write about HOW you solved the problem and which words in the problem gave you clues on which operation to use.

This works well for me and gets the kids thinking about HOW to problem solve.
A 7th step could be added- check your work.

Hope this helps.

Problem Solving
Posted by: Christine

Have students highlight the clue words (how many more, in all, altogether...). I just finished a math class called Cognitively Guided Instruction, where students are guided by their own thinking. Instead of focusing on the right answer, the goal is to focus and facilitate the teaching of various strategies to solve the math problems (draw a picture, use manipulatives, derived facts, counting on...)Students show the class how they solved the problem and explain their thinking. It really works-they learn from each other and their math vocabulary increases with their understanding of the processes. I always ask my students to figure out a problem at least three different ways. In special ed, I would start with the easiest problem types and as they build understanding, go from there. There are 16 problem types (in order of developmental stages of problem solving).

problem solving
Posted by: Suzanne

Here in the big city of Tampa, FL, I do this all the time every day since we have the dreaded FCAT assessment test. You would be surprised what children can write as a problem to be solved by themselves. I always have them write 10 problems a week and solve with a theme. This month, every problem has been about decimals. They exchange papers and solve. The question maker then grades the paper they wrote. This teaches them to be consise and stick to the topic.
I also use a bell like restaurants have when an order is up. 2 people sit across from each other with scratch paper and pencil. I read the problem once and them must solve it as quickly as possible. The first one done rings the bell and stands up. If correct, he/she wins a point for the team. They love that -- give it a try. Good luck from FL! By the way, this also grade 5.

problem with key words
Posted by: Naneb

The problem with teaching kids to look for key words is that they are not always going to help them figure out what process to use. for example the following problem uses the word different but you don't subtract to find the answer Drawing a picture would be the best way to solve the problem. The three little pigs each built their house out of a different material. How many different ways could they arrange their houses?
The strategies below are much better.

Word Problems Solving Strategies

Find a Pattern
Make a Table
Work Backwards
Guess and Check
Draw a Picture
Make a List
Write a Number Sentence
Use Logical Reasoning

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Teaching strategies
Posted by: Tracy

I have found that with my 4th graders and even my daughter who is a fourth grader, the main reason why word problems are so difficult is becasue they don't have the tools. I begin teaching strategies in September so that by May (state test), they have at least 8 strategies to use. My problem solving involves underlining the questions and circling all necessary info. This allows them to just focus on what is important. After this, we decide which strategy is best and why. We actually have a discussion to support which strategy they chose. I find that this helps because some students just like to draw a picture for each problem and they must understand that drawing a picture doesn't work all the time or isn't the best strategy to use. We don't do this all the time b/c it is so time consuming, but sometimes that is the lesson. I may then assign the actual problem for HW. At times I may then have them use 2 strategies to solve a problem and then decide which is best and why. We do problem solving first thing during the period when they are fresh. I have been teaching for 11 years and this has proven to work for me. You still have some who won't get it, but unfortunately, they are the ones that struggle in all areas. Some rise to the occasion when they have the proper tools. I use the Figure It Out math series for this. I begin with Grade 2, then move to Grade 3 as their skills improve and by the end of the year we have completed Grade 4. I also use a lot of games from Family Math which helps their problem solving skills. Lastly, I assign a Problem of the Week so their parents are also aware of where they need help. This problem is given on Monday and turned in on Friday with parent's signature.