One of the biggest struggles students have in solving word problems is figuring out what type of math to do. A common option is to teach students to use key words to identify the function to be done. Unfortunately, key words don’t always work.
A better strategy is to teach students to make sense of the problem. If students can make sense of what is happening in the problem, they can figure out any word problem.
Three ways to make sense of word problems are visualizing the problem, acting out the problem and illustrating the problem.
For example, look at the ways this problem could be solved. “Anna had 7 apples. She gave 4 of them to Jon. How many apples does she have left?”
When visualizing the problem, students are creating a movie in their heads of what is happening in the problem. Students should close their eyes and have students picture Anna holding 7 apples, then handing Jon 4 apples.
To act out the problem, students could work in partners. One partner would be Anna and hold 7 of something. That person would then hand 4 of the apples to Jon, then they count how many objects are left.
To illustrate the problem, a person could draw Anna and 7 apples. Then students could cross out 4 of the apples or draw arrows to Jon to show the movement of the apples. Then they would count how many are left.