Solving Word Problems in Mathematics

Solving Word Problems in Mathematics

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

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

     Real life math problems don’t usually look as simple as 3 + 5 = ?. Instead, things are 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 real life circumstances. 
     As a teacher, you can share some tips with your students to show that in everyday life they actually solve such problems all the time, and it’s not as scary as it may seem. 
     As you know, word problems can involve just about any operation: from addition to subtraction and division, or even multiple operations simultaneously.
If you’re a teacher, you may sometimes wonder how to teach students to solve word problems. It may be helpful to introduce some basic steps of working through a word problem in order to guide students’ experience. So, what steps do students need for solving a word problem in math?

Steps of Solving a Word Problem

     To work through any word problem, students should do the following:
     1. Read the problem: first, students should read through the problem once.
     2. Highlight facts: then, students should read through the problem again and highlight or underline important facts such as numbers or words that indicate an operation.
     3. Visualize the problem: drawing a picture or creating a diagram can be helpful. 
     Students can start visualizing simple or more complex problems by creating relevant images, from concrete (like drawings of putting away cookies from a jar) to more abstract (like tape diagrams). It can also help students clarify the operations they need to carry out. (next step!)
     4. Determine the operation(s): next, students should determine the operation or operations they need to perform. Is it addition, subtraction, multiplication, division? What needs to be done? 

     Drawing the picture can be a big help in figuring this out. However, they can also look for the clues in the words such as:
          – Addition: add, more, total, altogether, and, plus, combine, in all;
          – Subtraction: fewer, than, take away, subtract, left, difference;
          – Multiplication: times, twice, triple, in all, total, groups;
          – Division: each, equal pieces, split, share, per, out of, average.

     These key words may be very helpful when learning how to determine the operation students need to perform, but we should still pay attention to the fact that in the end it all depends on the context of the wording. The same word can have different meanings in different word problems. 
     Another way to determine the operation is to search for certain situations, Jennifer Findley suggests. She has a great resource that lists various situations you might find in the most common word problems and the explanation of 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 =. 
     Here they should learn to identify the steps they need to perform first to solve the problem, whether it's a simple or a complex sentence. 
     6. Solve the problem: then, students can solve the number sentence and determine the solution. For example, 3 + 8 = 11.
     7. Check the answer: finally, students should check their work to make sure that the answer is correct.

     These 7 steps will help students get closer to mastering the skill of solving word problems. Of course, they still need plenty of practice. So, make sure to create enough opportunities for that! 

     At Happy Numbers, we gradually include word problems throughout the curriculum to ensure math flexibility and application of skills. Check out how easy it is to learn how to solve word problems with our visual exercises! 

     Word problems can be introduced in Kindergarten and be used through all grades as an important part of an educational process connecting mathematics to real life experience. 
     Happy Numbers introduces young students to the first math symbols by first building conceptual understanding of the operation through simple yet engaging visuals and key words. Once they understand the connection between these keywords and the actions they represent, they begin to substitute them with math symbols and translate word problems into number sentences. In this way, students gradually advance to the more abstract representations of these concepts.
     For example, during the first steps, simple wording and animation help students realize what action the problem represents and find the connection between these actions and key words like “take away” and “left” that may signal them. 

     From the beginning, visualization helps the youngest students to understand the concepts of addition, subtraction, and even more complex operations. Even if they don’t draw the representations by themselves yet, students learn the connection between operations they need to perform in the problem and the real-world process this problem describes. 

     Next, students organize data from the word problem and pictures into a number sentence. To diversify the activity, you can ask students to match a word problem with the number sentence it represents.  
     Solving measurement problems is also a good way of mastering practical math skills. This is an example where students can see that math problems are closely related to real-world situations. Happy Numbers applies this by introducing more complicated forms of word problems as we help students advance to the next skill. By solving measurement word problems, students upgrade their vocabulary, learning such new terms as “difference” and “sum,” and continue mastering the connection between math operations and their word problem representations. 

To see the full exercise, follow this link.

     Later, students move to the next step, in which they learn how to create drawings and diagrams by themselves. They start by distributing light bulbs equally into boxes, which helps them to understand basic properties of division and multiplication. Eventually, with the help of Dino, they master tape diagrams! 

To see the full exercise, follow this link.

     The importance of working with diagrams and models becomes even more apparent when students move to more complex word problems. Pictorial representations help students master conceptual understanding by representing a challenging multi-step word problem in a visually simple and logical form. The ability to interact with a model helps students better understand logical patterns and motivates them to complete the task. 

To see the full exercise, follow this link.

     Having mentioned complex word problems, we have to show some of the examples that Happy Numbers uses in its curriculum. As the last step of mastering word problems, it is not the least important part of the journey. It’s crucial for students to learn how to solve the most challenging math problems without being intimidated by them. This only happens when their logical and algorithmic thinking skills are mastered perfectly, so they easily start talking in “math” language. 

To see the full exercise, follow this link.

     These are the common steps that may help students overcome initial feelings of anxiety and fear of difficulty of the task they are given. Together with a teacher, they can master these foundational skills and build their confidence toward solving word problems. And Happy Numbers can facilitate this growth, providing varieties of engaging exercises and challenging word problems! 

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