A Five Step Easy Guide to Solving Math Word Problems

By Jayana Desai,

Do you feel that your child is not able to do well in word problems compared to number problems? Do you think that your child finds it difficult to comprehend or understand math word problems? Leave all your apprehensions behind because here’s unveiling the 5 simple steps that will help your child to solve word problems confidently and smartly.

“The essence of mathematics is not to make simple things complicated, but to make complicated things simple.”  — Stan Gudder

Raj collects pencils and stores them in his favourite pencil case. Raj has 26 pencils in his pencil case. He puts 7 more pencils in his case. How many pencils does Raj have in his case?

Photo Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/743218

While some may find math word problems easy and fun to solve, others may actually find them difficult and confusing. Which side of the spectrum does your child fall on when solving these types of problems? To help determine the answer, ask yourself:

Does your child stare endlessly at the word problem with no idea what to do? Does your child rush through the word problem just to get it wrong? Is your child showing signs of frustration or lack of confidence when solving word problems?  If the answers to these questions were a resounding yes, then rest assured. Here are 5 steps children can use to solve math word problems.

Five Step Guide to Solving Math Word Problems:

1. Think

What is the problem asking? (Look for key words to help answer the question)

2.  Figure it out

Choose a strategy you know (i.e. number line to count, double counting, splitting the numbers into parts, counting by tens and ones, child invented strategy, etc.)

3.   Come up with a number scheme

13 + 6 =? ; 16 – 7 =?

4.    Solve the problem

Use the strategy identified in Step 2 to solve the problem

5.    Discuss

Explain your reasoning and approach (i.e. the “whys”)

Now, let’s apply these five steps to the math word problem:

Raj collects pencils and stores them in his favourite pencil case. Raj has 26 pencils in his pencil case. He puts 7 more pencils in his case. How many pencils does Raj have in his case?

  1. Think: The key words “7 more” tell me the number of pencils will be greater than 26. So, to increase the amount I will need to add the two numbers.
  2. Figure it out: Number line to count strategy
  3. Come up with a number scheme: 26 + 7 = ?
  4. Solve the problem:
  5. Discuss: I chose addition because the problem stated there will be “7 more” pencils. This means Raj will have a number greater than 26 pencils. I chose the line strategy to help me add. I started the number line at 26 and I needed to add 7. I know I can skip count by 2’s until I get to six, and then I can add 1 more increment, i.e. 2 + 2 + 2 = 6 +1 = 7. I apply this method to my number line (i.e. 26 + 2 = 28; 28 + 2 = 30; 30 + 2 = 32; 32 + 1 = 33). The total number of pencils in Raj’s pencil case is 33.

That seems simple, right? Well, at first it may seem daunting to a child as anything new does. However, encouraging your child to practice the 5-steps will gradually erase any fears, and rather build self-confidence in solving math word problems.

So, take this time to introduce your child to the 5-step guide of solving word problems, and witness your child swing to the other side of the spectrum; finding math word problems easy and fun to solve!

Now it’s your turn! Does your child apply one, some, or all of these 5 steps when solving math word problems? What strategies does your child use when solving word problems? How do you see the 5-step guide helping your child solve math word problems? Post your burning comment, thought, or question and let’s engage in an open dialogue!

About the Author:

An avid professional in the field of International Education, Jayana Desai hung up her investment banking heels of 13 years to pursue her dream of educating children. She holds a Master’s degree in International Education from New York University, Steinhardt. She has taught children at the primary grade level in both India and in New York. Her passion for educating children can be seen in the curriculum materials she develops, as well as in her love for teaching yoga to children. Being able to empower children with knowledge through positive learning experiences is Jayana’s goal. She would like them to be able to develop their body and mind, while bringing joy to their lives. Prior to her experience in Education, Jayana worked at two prestigious Investment Banks- JP Morgan and Lehman Brothers. She held various leadership positions in managing strategic, global-scale initiatives.

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