Word problems can derail even your most capable math students. Many students are unsure of what steps to take to begin to solve a straightforward single-step problem. Then there are the multi-step problems and the problems that include extraneous information. But even if a student is able to get to an answer, he still may have difficulty explaining how he got there.
I created a problem solving mat a while back, and it works great. Whatever graphic organizers we give them should be helpful to our students and give teachers a way to see our students’ thinking. But I’m a big fan of kids being independent learners who advocate for themselves. So I decided to create a new, clearer layout to my problem solving mat that students could recreate on their own.
The purpose of my problem solving guide is to help your students become independent at determining how to solve a math word problem, rather than relying on a graphic organizer that is provided for them. The design of this guide is simple, so that, through visual cues, students can easily recall each section, identify its function and reproduce it on a blank page.
Rather than making photocopies, I display it on my SMART Board, and have my students draw it on their slates (individual white boards): Divide the slate into four sections, draw a question mark, light bulb, four operations, and a check mark. They should be practiced at recreating it themselves right from the start.
In the first section, students explain specifically what the problem is asking. The reason is to focus students’ attention on to goal of the word problem.
The third section is where students need to plan their strategy for solving the problem. They should ask themselves whether they should use a particular operation, draw a picture, create a table, or use another method such as tallying.
Having a game plan can make all the difference for some of your students!
What are some strategies that you use with your students to help them solve math word problems in your classroom?