Solving a math problem where all the numbers are presented is relatively straightforward, but word problems, which require reading in addition to the numbers, present a significant challenge.
Those words alone increase the challenge (and, in some instances, the math anxiety) by 100.
In what ways can you encourage your pupils to tackle word problems with gusto? Teaching pupils a systematic, structured approach to solving word problems will give them the skills they need to do so effectively.
I’ve included the seven methods that have been most effective in guiding pupils to correct answers when faced with a word problem.
1. Study the whole word problem
Students should take a deep breath and read the entire word problem before they start searching for keywords and trying to figure out what to do (and, even better, twice). Children are better equipped to grasp the details by seeing the broader picture.
2. Consider the word problem
When tackling a word problem, students should always begin with these three inquiries. By asking themselves these questions, they can start formulating a strategy for resolving the issue.
The inquiries are as follows:
What is the question, exactly?
So why is it a bad idea to inquire? Curriculum writers frequently include irrelevant details in the problem without providing context or explanation (grrr!). Learners should be able to maintain concentration, irrelevant discount information, and zero in on the central issue of a topic.
What resources am I going to need to investigate this?
Students must refine their thinking to identify the specific operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc.) that will lead them to a solution. They will need a broad understanding of what they will be doing and what information will be used.
The use of keywords is especially useful in this context. To help them make better decisions, kids can learn that some words signify to add (as in all, ultimately, combined) while others mean to subtract, multiply, or divide.
My students and I had a blast with my giant addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division signs that I constructed one year and inscribed the keywords around. These were invaluable as classroom reminders of essential vocabulary terms for solving word problems.
What do I already know?
Here, students will zero down on the numerical data necessary to solve a problem.
3. Solve the word problem by writing it out
The conclusion reached in Step 2 is reaffirmed here. Students with pencils or colored pencils mark up worksheets (not books, unless they are consumable). There are several approaches to this, but here is one of my favorites:
- Make sure to highlight the relevant digits on your worksheet.
- Lightly erase any details that aren’t essential.
- Put an asterisk next to the word(s) or phrase(s) that tell you precisely what you’re looking for.
4. Make a basic drawing and give it a name
To better visualize solutions to issues, have students draw illustrations using basic shapes like squares, circles, and rectangles. Labeling things with numbers or names also helps.
If the word problem states five boxes containing four apples, the students can represent this information by drawing five squares, each with the number four. It’s a lot simpler for kids to see the solution right away.
5. Make the best guess before you solve
Students can gauge the reasonableness of their solution by comparing it to a rough estimate of the correct answer. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of doing this kind of quick, basic calculation. This motivates students to carefully consider their solution’s reliability once it has been found.
6. When you’re finished, double-check your work
This is an option worth considering as a companion to the sixth tactic. Is your solution reasonable? This is a statement I frequently use during math class. Instead of just memorizing formulas, I hope pupils will put some thought into the numbers they see.
Students who make it a habit to double-check their work are also more likely to spot the thoughtless errors that lead to wrong replies.
7. Solve word problems regularly
Mastering word problems is an acquired skill, like playing the clarinet, dribbling a soccer ball, or drawing a realistic portrait.
Many different things can occur when pupils work on word problems. Less anxiety-inducing word puzzles (no, really).
They start to recognize patterns in various situations and acquire the ability to comprehend and address them more rapidly. They’ll feel more at ease knowing they’ve already conquered a significant number of word problems, even if they’re of a different variety from those they’ve faced before.