Teacher Guide to Math Word Problems
Within every math word problem is an equation. Solving a math word problem is about determining what the problem is asking as much as it is about determining (and solving) the equation hidden in the words. While word problems can be solved in many different ways, each method involves outlining the problem.
Word problems are now being more highlighted than ever. We are seeing just about every other standard in math include a form of word problem or problem solving skill in a similar light. We would ask you to keep this in mind when you are planning your lessons. Try to turn everything into a word problem, than they become much easier for students.
Outlining the problem is not as difficult as it might sound. If you follow a systematic pattern, it can become very habitual and some might even term it "easy!" Lets see if we can give you some basic steps to make it easier for you.
1. WHAT IS HAPPENING?
Begin by reading the problem and trying to visualize what is happening. This is called "giving the problem context". It means, simply, that you understand what the numbers represent.
2. WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?
Next, make a list of the numbers you have to work with and what those numbers mean - these are called "variables". For example, if your math word problem talks about Julie having two cookies, one of your variables would be "Julie's cookies = 2". Listing your variables will help you see what information you have.
3. WHAT IS BEING ASKED?
Once you have your list of variables, you need to figure out what is being asked in the math word problem. While many times the question is written out, many times you have to figure it out yourself or, at least, figure out the steps you need to take to get the answer.
4. HOW CAN YOU CALCULATE THE ANSWER?
Many times, a math word problem will have more than one step, such as in the following example: "Julie has two cookies. You give her two more. Julie gives one to Todd. How many cookies does Julie have now?" In order to solve this problem, you first have to add the number of cookies Julie had to begin with (2) with the number you gave her (2). The second part of the question involves using that total (4), and subtracting the 1 cookie, she gave to Todd.
5. PERFORM THE CALCULATION
Next, you will calculate the answer. If you are unsure, draw diagrams or pictures to help. Also, write out your work - this way if you do make a mistake, it will be easy to go through your work and correct it.
Lastly, review your work. After you get your calculation, ask yourself whether the number makes sense. To be extra certain, try working the problem backwards. This way, you can double-check your math and the reasoning you used in framing your answer.
Related Teacher Resources That Are Worth A Look:
- A Problem a Day Makes the Bad Math Grades...
- Agrademath Homework
- An Impossible Math Problem! What Do You Do?
- Helping Children Become Good Problem Solvers
- Solve Math Problems by Using an Outline
- Taming Word Problems
- Tips for Reinforcing Good Problem Solving Skills
- Why are Word Problems So Important?