Word problems are an important part of math instruction because they show students how they can use the math they are learning in the classroom in real life. A skill they will be using constantly throughout their life!
For this reason, I try to make learning this skill as fun as possible so that students will be engaged enough to really learn and understand the concept!
Here are some of my favorite tips for teaching word problems!
- Use picture books – Model real-world problems using actual books. This is so easy to do with pretty much any picture book. All you need are pictures! While you’re reading, look for any changes with adding and subtracting in the pictures. For example: in Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, you can point out the adding one concept using the food. This is a good start for helping students understand that word problems have a beginning, change, and an end. For modeling subtraction, I found this book One Big Pair of Underwear. It’s hilarious! The kids really liked the funny pictures and obviously, anything with underwear captures their attention.
- Think- Pair – Share – Solving word problems can be difficult for young students especially if they’re reluctant to read the words. One way you can help students overcome this challenge is with think-pair-share. Start by reading the word problem out loud. You may need to do this two or three times. Then, give students one minute to think about what they just read. Next. have students share with a partner what they just heard. Some questions they may discuss are:
- What do you know?
- What do you need to solve?
- How might you solve that?
This supports your little learners by helping “read” the world problem and it integrates with your listening and speaking standards.
- Use rewards – Motivate your students to complete word problems. You can use this FREE Word Problem pack to do that. When students complete a word problem, they simply color, stamp, or place a counter over a space. When they’ve completed a certain amount, they earn a reward of their choice. For example, if a student completes five word problems, then the student can take their shoes off.
- Making Movies – is another way I like to teach my students how to solve word problems. Have them close their eyes and visualize what is happening in the story. Is the information missing in the beginning, middle, or end of the story?
- DIY Word Problems – Create your own math word problems. Have students roll dice to create their own math word problems. This helps engage them in learning and gets them to work independently. You can grab these by clicking here!
- Get Hands-on -Use math manipulatives to model word problems. My favorite math manipulative is using an abacus. I model with one row the first part of the story. Then, I model the second part on the second row. Finally, I model the third part on the third row. Wherever the missing information is (beginning, middle, or end), we don’t model it, and this is where we show our answer. You can also use a tens frame with counters. This hands on manipulative organizes the information for kids to see and it’s an essential tool that will appear over and over again in K – 2.
- Play Games – There are so many benefits to doing this. You can read about those here. You can get extra practice with word problems using these games. I’ve made sure to create a balance with word problems that have a missing beginning, missing middle, and a missing end. There are some with a change and some that compare.
These activities have always been a hit in my classroom. Making learning fun is such a simple and great way to increase student engagement and learning outcomes!
What are your favorite ways to teach word problems? Let me know in the comments!