I am a first year 3rd grade teacher. I was wondering if anyone had any useful tips for teaching word problem strategies. We are half way through the year, so we've touched on word problems and we have a "game plan" but I really want to start focusing on some clues that I can teach them. I teach them to: 1. read the problem 2. underline the question 3. circle key words and phrases 4. determine function (+ - x / round...) 5. solve the problem Next year, I will add a step in there (write a number sentence) in between steps 4 and 5... but since we didn't start out that way, I don't really want to change up our game plan mid year. What I'd really like some help with is teaching them some clues to help them with steps 3 "key words" and 4 "determine function". I know some other teachers teach that when you see a certain word or phrase, you add. For example "in all" = add. Does anyone have any advice or anything typed up that might help me. I thought about doing a tree map with them with key words... any other ideas? Thanks, AJ

I have keyword posters...if you pm me I can send you the posters if I still have them saved or I'll take pictures and send to you. Also, great strategy. Look at the units...all one unit (+/-), two different units (x/divide). Ex: Anna has 3 apples. Ben has 15 apples. How many apples do they have in all? (See how all the units are apples?) Ex: Anna has 24 apples. She has 3 baskets. How many apples should she put into each basket? (See how there are now apples and baskets as units?)

I also have my student circle the numbers they are using and they have to find a noun in the question sentence.

I have my students write out facts that they know. Example: Gary and Tina are going to paint a poster for school. The poster is 3 feet long. If Gary and Tina each want to paint equal parts of the poster, how many parts will each person get to paint? FACTS WE KNOW: 1) There are two people-Gary & Tina 2) The poster is 3 feet long 3) They will divide each part equally Then I tell them to draw a picture. I usually have them actually draw 2 stick people. Then they would draw a box that is labeled from 0 to 3 and follow steps to solve.

I don't teach 3rd grade, though my youngest child will be there next year. A highlighter may help them locate any "operation words." So, in the example above, the word "EACH" is a huge clue and would be highlighted. Perhaps you could even have a brainstorming session, where kids come up with a list of the different ways to say or imply a particular operation. Put the 4 basic operations on the board, and have them come up with words, then figure out where each goes. Or do it in reverse: you come up with the list of operation words, and they have to determine where on the chart each word goes. Then the chart would be a reference for them any time they got stuck on a verbal problem.

These are some good ideas. Sometimes, though, 3rd graders will only look for clue words and will jump to automatic conclusions (it says 'and' so we must have to add). That is just the opposite of the purpose of solving word problems. The goal for solving word problems is to help children develop skills for problem solving, and to organize information into usable data, as well as to communicate problem solving verbally and visually. So, the skills above can help, but only if kids know that there is no one right way and are allowed to explore their own approaches to problem solving. Open-ended problem solving stories are very beneficial for higher level thinking skills. I really think kids should work on problem solving daily. In my experience, students were very hesitant to explore picture or symbol methods of problem solving, and just a little less hesitant to use tables. They also had a hard time explaining their processes verbally or in writing. If we want kids to be able to think and not just find 'right answers', we have to give them opportunities to do so, and we need to de-emphasize the numerical results and emphasize processes. Working with partners who are well-suited or in small groups can be beneficial.

Excellent post, Upsadaisy! I was just about to write something similar. The key word strategies can be very helpful, but also limit some student thinking. It also works better for one-step problems. I have also seen 'higher' students dread problem solving in class because they are forced to write out minutia of problems they can solve instantly in their head. This is frustrating for them. It is important to help them learn how to clarify their thinking, but sometimes, as teachers, we go overboard. One thing I like about our math curriculum, ThinkMath, is that each lesson starts with an open ended problem solving scenario, with multiple solutions and entry points. (They call it a "headline story.") Students work on posing questions -- recognizing that problem solving is not just about operating on all the numbers in sight -- and analyzing how to use information. I find the K-2 teachers use it more than the 3-5 teachers, who often feel more pressed for time and the need to 'cover' more content. This is a shame; there a lot of valuable ideas being addressed in the headline story. (Even if you don't do it every day!) If you have a crunch for planning time, an easy way to create these problems (for the testing grades) is to take some of the data or word problems from your state test, and remove the question. Then have students: Look (what do you see about the information provided?) Write (write down some observations about what you notice) Ask (ask a question that could be answered based on this information -- encourage creativity!) Answer (answer your question) That is not to say that the above strategies aren't helpful. They are. Students should work on how to choose an appropriate operation based on the given information. It's an important skill. Work on linking visual representations to equations to a final answer, and compare/contrast. (The equations are going to be the most efficient strategy, but some kids will need that visual connection to understand why it works.)

Love thos eopen ended questions. I used to get the NCTM publication and it always had a several page article about a specific class and its problem solving work/results. Fascinating. You need to join NCTM to get the monthly publication, but it comes free with the membership. It is fantastic.

Yes! TCM still has that Problem Solving section every month. Love it! Of course, when I think of problem solving, I typically think of those sorts of rich contexts, not the one-step word problems. (Again, not that the one-step word problems aren't important to know how to approach, too.) I was reading a book on "Visible Thinking" today, and was reminded of how, in order to make the metacognitive processes more transparent, it's important to have these kinds of problems. It's the difference between: "There are three coins: a penny, a nickel, and a dime. How much are the coins worth? (a) 1¢ (b) 4¢ (c) 10¢ (d) 16¢" and "Jamal has five coins in his pocket, made up of pennies, nickels and dimes. He pulls out three of them. How much money might he have in his hand?" Kids could discuss the lowest possible value of these coins, or the highest possible value, or just give a possible value, or discuss all the possible combinations of coins... they could make tables, draw pictures, write equations... and, yes, you could talk about why you might want to add the values together, but it goes so much deeper. And that's just for a quick warm-up.

Right, right, right. Isn't it exciting to hear the kids have those kinds of discussions? Also fun to hear them thinking aloud trying to find the rule in a pattern.

I would add estimating the answer first and at the end evaluating the answer to make sure it makes sense.

non math ingredient I tell my kids to put their name, and friends' names, into the problem. If they need to, switch items, ex. if you're more interested in baseball change the apples to baseballs. Just helps them focus more by making it more real.

Helping them to understand "what is given"and specially "what is asked to find"helps them do word problems well.

We read the problem at least 3 times so that they know what it says before highlighting key words and key numbers. I also have a key words poster up on my math board that stays up till state testing.

You should check out "Model Drawing". It's a big part of Singapore Math. I started using this strategy with my kids last year and they loved it! They cheered every time I told them it was time for "Model Drawing".

I just attended a Smartboard class, and one of the participants had a GREAT "notebook" for word problem strategies... I think I may have access to that file (the files are supposed to be uploaded to a central server), if you have a smartboard. If you are interested, PM me.

One thing our kids seem to have problems doing (based upon hearsay, since I'm not back in 3rd yet) is getting rid of (or disregarding) irrelevant information. Any tips?

We drew little trashcans when they rewrote the inportant information and wrote the unneccessary info inside it.

Remove the numbers from the word problem to make sure they actually understand their thinking process! If they understand where to begin, they will be able to plug in any numbers to solve!