As a teacher, I understand the struggles students often face when it comes to solving word problems. Whether it’s reading challenges, a lack of executive functioning skills for multi-step problems, information overload, or language barriers for English language learners, word problems can be tricky! That’s why I want to share some effective techniques for teaching word problem-solving skills that can empower our students to tackle these tasks with confidence (and accuracy).
Importance of Word Problem-Solving Skills
Before diving into these techniques, let’s explore why it’s important to teach our students word problem-solving skills. First and foremost, these skills have real-world application and relevance, as students will encounter problem-solving scenarios throughout their lives. Furthermore, developing these skills fosters critical thinking and reasoning abilities that are invaluable in various subjects, including math, science, and social studies.
Techniques for Teaching Word Problem-Solving Skills
Understanding the problem
Teach students to identify important information and keywords. Help students recognize what information is relevant and which words signal specific mathematical operations. A strategy I like to use with my students is to underline the question, box in the keywords, and circle the numbers needed.
Use diagrams, drawings, mental movies, or manipulatives to represent the problem: Encourage students to create visual representations of the problem to better understand the situation. A strategy I like to use for this is to have my students make a mental movie, then they share their ideas with a partner, and finally, they use manipulatives to explore a solution.
You can also use pictures or comic strips to illustrate the problem. I like to introduce primary students to word problems with the Kindergarten Word Problems because they have an illustration on each game card giving the students context and helping them build prior knowledge.
Developing a Plan
Teach students to choose appropriate strategies for solving word problems: Help students understand that different problems require different approaches and provide them with a toolkit of strategies.
Again, referencing the kindergarten word problems, I like these because there’s a balance between solving for the missing beginning, middle, and end and even comparing the two addends. This gives students a variety of problems to solve.
I recommend starting with concrete strategies like mental movies, pictures, and acting out the problem. After students demonstrate understanding, move on to pictures and diagrams. I find that tape diagrams and number lines are most useful for elementary students.
Encourage Collaboration and Discussion
Another great strategy is to promote peer collaboration and group problem-solving. Foster a classroom environment where students feel comfortable working together and sharing ideas.
I do this with students by projecting one game card problem on our interactive whiteboard. Next, I partner students together using ClassDojo’s partner generator; however, you can use any partner-generating method. Our routine before each lesson is to think about the problem for one minute. Then, we talk about the problem with a partner. Finally, we explore solutions for the problem independently and share our thinking with the whole group.
Using Word Problems to Support Instruction
Word problems are essential to academic success. I have a set of word problems included in each grade-level bundle of math games, and if I’m being honest, I don’t like using them as a stand-alone games.
I know what you’re thinking, “YOU DON’T LIKE YOUR OWN GAME?”
It’s not that I don’t like it because I know it’s necessary. It’s just that it’s too challenging and takes more time and perseverance to solve than basic math facts.
Instead of using them as a game, I sprinkle word problems into other games. I also use them as discussion starters or warm-ups before beginning our math lesson. I have learned that consistency is key. It’s such a routine that my students could lead this lesson without a teacher.
Implementing word problems can help create a more engaging, effective, and supportive learning environment for students as they develop their problem-solving skills.
Teaching word problem-solving skills is crucial for students’ success, both in the classroom and beyond. I hope the techniques discussed in this blog post inspire you to implement them in your classroom and explore the word problems in my math game bundles. I invite you to share your experiences teaching problem-solving skills or any additional techniques you’ve found effective in the comments below.
Together, let’s empower our students to become more confident problem-solvers!
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