Solving Word Problems in Mathematics

What Is a Word Problem? (And How to Solve Them!)

Learn what word problems are and how to solve them in 7 easy steps.

In real life, math problems don’t usually present themselves as 3 + 5. Instead, things are usually a bit more complex. To show this, sometimes, math curriculum creators use word problems to help students see what happens in the real world.

Word problems often show math happening in a more natural way in the real world. You’ve probably solved a few word problems in your day! Here are some examples.

Word Problem Examples
Word problems can range from simple to complex. Here are a few to give you an idea:

– Sarah had 3 apples. Her mother bought more 8 apples and gave them to her. Now, how many apples does Sarah have altogether?
– There were 15 pens and 12 pencils. How many more pens than pencils are there?
– George has one dozen eggs. His family ate 3 for breakfast. Now, how many eggs are left?
– There are 12 cookies. Sarah, George, Sue, and Dylan all want to eat some of them. How many cookies should each of the friends get?

As you can see, word problems can involve just about any operation. From addition to subtraction, and division, word problems can also involve multiple operations.

If you’re a teacher, you may wonder how to teach children to solve word problems. It can help to teach students basic steps to use when working through a problem. That way, their process is guided. So, what steps do students need for solving a word problem in math?

Steps for Solving a Word Problem

To work through any word problem, students should follow these steps.

1. Read the Problem: First, students should read through the problem once.
2. Highlight Facts: Then, the student should read through the problem again and highlight or underline important facts such as numbers or words that indicate an operation.
3. Draw a Picture: Drawing a picture can sometimes help students visualize the problem more clearly. It can also help students clarify the operations they need to carry out. (next step!)
4. Determine the Operation(s): Next, the student should determine the operation or operations they need to perform. Is it addition, subtraction, multiplication, division? What needs to happen? Drawing the picture should be a big help in figuring this out. However, they can look for clues in the words such as:
Addition: add, brought, total, altogether, and, plus, combine, more, in all
Subtraction: fewer, than, take away, subtract, left
Multiplication: times, twice, triple, in all, total
Division: each, equal pieces, split, per, out of, average

Another way to determine the operation is to search for certain situations, Jennifer Findley suggests. She has a great resource that lists the various situations you might find in the most common word problems and which operation applies to each situation.

5. Make a Math Sentence: Next, students should try to translate the word problem and drawings into a math or number sentence. This means students might write a sentence such as 3 + 8 =
6. Solve the Problem: Then, students can solve the number sentence and determine the solution. For example, 3 + 8 = 11.
7. Check Your Answer: Finally, students should check their work to make sure that the answer is correct.

With these 7 steps, solving word problems in mathematics becomes as easy as pie! Of course, students also need plenty of practice. So, make sure your students get plenty of chances to practice their word problem-solving skills!

At Happy Numbers, we include word problems throughout the curriculum. Check it out!