Solving word problems is a key life skill. Someday your students will need to know how to buy enough food for a party, figure out how much tile is necessary for a bathroom, double a recipe, determine the price of an item on sale, or calculate how many miles are left on a road trip. Word problems can be tricky, however, making it essential to teach your students multiple ways to solve these types of math equations. Once you have introduced the many ways to reach an answer, your students can choose the one that works best for them.
Here are ten fun ways to get your students excited about word problems!
1. Use manipulatives
When students first start solving word problems, they need something concrete that they can touch and see. Math manipulatives are the perfect resource for this! Your students can use counters, cubes, blocks, coins, or even miniature erasers to create a visual representation of the math problem. For example, if your students have a problem that requires them to calculate the sum of two and four, they can make one pile of two items and a second pile of four items. Then they can count how many they have all together. This method also works well for subtraction.
2. Do a craft – often called a craftivity
Kids love a good craft, and you can capitalize on that by breaking out the craft supplies during math time. Perhaps your students can solve an addition problem by gluing feathers to a turkey or divide a group of paper bones among paper dogs. Have your students count coins by allowing them to turn the coins into a picture first. Or solve a subtraction problem by ripping links off a paper chain.
3. Draw a picture
Sometimes students need to see something to understand how it works. When solving math word problems, this is especially true. After your students read a word problem, challenge them to draw it. If the problem asks them to determine how many books are on two different shelves, students can draw the two shelves and the books on them and then count the pictures. If your students are trying to figure out how much money they have left after spending some, they can draw the original amount and cross out what they spent. Then they can count what’s left. Drawing a picture is also quite effective when students need to figure out the area or perimeter of a shape, or when they need to divide a group of objects equally.
4. Act it out
Instead of asking your students to simply figure out the answer, have them act out the problem. For example, say your students are trying to determine how to divide 12 pieces of candy equally among three children. Divide your students into groups of three and give them 12 pieces of candy to divide. If your students are trying to calculate how much ribbon they need to wrap 5 gifts, give them ribbon and 5 gifts and have them figure it out. To help students to find out how much it will cost to make dinner, give them the grocery ads so they can calculate the exact cost. Not only will your students have fun, but they will also remember how to do these types of problems in the future.
5. Go online
Children love the chance to play around on the computer or iPad. Use that to your advantage and assign your students some online word problems to solve. You can create your own word problem documents and have your students use the drawing tools to solve them, or you can use already-created word problem activities. Education.com offers a wealth of these types of activities, but there are numerous educational sites that will give your students word problem practice.
6. Take it outside
Since students spend so much of their school time indoors, going outside is a novel way to encourage attentiveness to learning. Send students on nature hunts to solve addition problems to 10 by putting the kids in pairs having them find 10 rocks, pinecones, or sticks. Then students can rearrange their nature items to figure out different equations with a sum of 10. Practice division by having students separate groups of nature objects into equal groups of two, three, or four. Older students will enjoy measuring the area or perimeter of outside spaces and then adding them together. Students can also practice multiplication by making arrays with their nature objects.
7. Write a word problem
Instead of writing all the word problems yourself, why not have your students write their own word problems? Not only will it provide a more concrete understanding of the basic formulas of word problems, but it’s also an engaging way to do something new in math. Younger children can practice writing their own problems by filling in the blanks on word problem templates, and older students can come up with their own problems on their own. Once all the problems are written, students can switch and solve each others’.
8. Use your students’ names
Students love to hear their own names – particularly in the context of reading and math. Build interest in your word problems by writing them to include the names of your students. Invite each student to solve the word problem that includes their name and then share the answers with their classmates. This is also a great way to differentiate your math instruction to ensure that all students get the practice they need at the level their current level of performance.
9. Ask the students to be the teachers
Instead of always being the one standing in the front of the room showing students how to solve math word problems, have the kids do it instead. Children tend to remember more of what they learn when they teach it to someone else. Invite students to take turns coming to the front of the room and demonstrating how to solve a word problem in the way that makes the most sense to them.
10. Make word problems silly
There’s nothing kids like more than being allowed to be silly in the classroom. Let your students be silly while also solving math word problems. You can write the word problems yourself or encourage the students to come with silly problems as a class. Perhaps the teacher ate 26 cupcakes for breakfast and 56 cupcakes for lunch and needs to know how many cupcakes she ate in all. The story problems can also encompass other things you’re teaching, such as weather, maps, and music. Even older kids can get in the silly action with word problems about emojis, sports, and other things that matter to them.
It’s tricky to get all students on board to love and enjoy solving math word problems, but with these ideas your class will may just start looking forward to them! You’ll love seeing students enjoy solving problems while also boosting their math abilities and test scores.