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Three Ways to Help Students Master Word Problems

I don’t know about you, but teaching word problems absolutely drives me batty! 🦇 It doesn’t matter how much modeling and explaining I do- my students just keep adding the 2 numbers in the word problem without giving them any thought.

I talked to my colleagues and they were having the same problem. I spent some time watching students and asking questions. 

After some time spent researching (Thank you pinterest!) I came up with a plan!

3 Ways to Help Students Master Word Problems

1- Acting out word problems.

Three Ways to Help Students Master Word Problems
The first thing I did was lower the numbers in the word problems so we COULD act them out. Even though I teach 2nd grade, we went back to using single digits to practice with.

I did this for 2 reasons. The first is that it meant we could actually act the word problems out. The second is that it allowed them to focus on the actual word problem and not trying to figure out the big numbers. (insert image of word problems within 20)

For example, I might use this word problem “Ms. White had 5 crayons.  She gave 2 of them to Abdul. How many crayons does she have left?”  When I can physically hold 5 crayons in my hand and give 2 of them to a student, it is much easier to see that subtracted from my total number of crayons.

2- Explain WHY they chose addition or subtraction

Three Ways to Help Students Master Word Problems
To start with, we practiced numberless word problems.  If you haven’t heard of numberless word problems, I first read about them here.  

To build on the above exam, a numberless word problem would say “Ms. White had some crayons.  She gave some of them to Abdul.” Then we follow up with “Do you need to add or subtract to solve this problem?”

The reason the numberless word problems work so well is that students don’t get tripped up on the numbers.  Without numbers, they couldn’t just add the first 2 things they see.  This forces students to actually think about the process and what kind of math they need to do.

3- Practice, Practice, Practice

Three Ways to Help Students Master Word Problems

This is HUGE.  Not just practice, but correct practice.  After all, practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.

As part of my students morning routine last year, they solved a word problem.  It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s roughly 170 extra word problems outside of the word problems they complete during math class.

At the beginning of the month, I create a Daily Word Problem book for each student.  Every morning, students solve the next problem in the book.  During Morning Meeting, we read the problem and 2-3 students share how they solved the problem.  I am able to correct misconceptions and model additional strategies.

I use these Daily Word Problem resources.  I start the year with the Numbers within 20 resources and switch to Numbers within 100 when students become proficient. 

Three Ways to Help Students Master Word Problems
Three Ways to Help Students Master Word Problems
If you need more word problems, you can check out this section of my TPT store!

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