Many students have difficulty solving word problems–but if they learn this step-by-step method, they will find it much easier. Word problems are important because they illustrate the use of math in real-life situations! Also, while these steps might seem like an awful lot of work in the beginning stages of math, by the time a student starts doing more advanced math, like algebra, trigonometry, and calculus, these steps will be automatic and the “hard” math will actually be much easier. You might want to print out the following steps and post them on the student’s desk or in the front of his or her math binder.
- Read the entire word problem at least twice, so you understand the general flow of it.
- Circle the important number facts for each problem.
- Underline the question for each problem.
- Look for
key wordsin the problem that will tell or hint whether to add, subtract, multiply, or divide, or use other math methods. Above those key words, write the sign for the method.
- If there is
more thanone question, underline the first one with a straight line, the second one with a squiggly line, the third with a dotted line, and so on. When word problems have multiple equations and/or steps, be sure to think them through verycarefully indeed.
- Write out the equation. Be sure to copy the numbers (and signs + –
x/) carefully from the word problem. Double check!
- If having trouble creating an equation, try drawing a sketch to understand the problem better. Do NOT try to “do it in your head.” You can also write the information and equation in words before converting it to numbers and signs.
- Write the equation down carefully and double check. Write the equation from left to right (horizontally). When you do the calculations, you can use the vertical method
—but you need to first have the equation right there to refer to. Compare the horizontal equation and the vertical calculations. Do they match?
- Is one equation enough, or do you need to answer
more thanone question? Should you use two or more equations, and in what order should they come? If you are more advanced, can you combine your separate equations into one equation? (Don’t forget, if you docombine equations, to follow the rules for orderof operations and use parentheses to make the equation clear and in proper order).
- Read the word problem again, and double check your equation(s). Are you sure you are using the correct method(s)?
- Solve the equation, step by step, line by line (if it is a complicated equation, you might need to do it in several lines, one line for each step). Show all your work beside the equation, both for yourself to double-check, and so the teacher can see how you have approached the problem! Don’t be in a hurry. (You will be able to do calculations more easily if you have memorized your math facts. If you haven’t yet memorized your facts, you can use a calculator or “times table” to check your facts–but do the rest of the problem solving yourself.)
- Check the answer. Double check your calculations to make sure you didn’t make any errors. Also double check that you did the correct calculation–did you add where a subtraction sign is, or divide where a multiplication sign is? These are common errors. Always double check each step. Put your answer into the original equation and do the calculation to see if it works out.
- Remember, with the number answer, put the measurement units (kg, L, etc.) or the signs ($ etc.).
- Ideally, write the answer as a sentence. This is another good way to make sure you have used the correct equation(s) and solved them correctly. Also, when you write out a complete answer, if there are sets of word problems with later problems based on answers to previous ones, it will be much easier to find the information you need.
It is better to give a student a few word problems that include the math concepts you are teaching, and have the student work through them step-by-step, showing all their work, rather than giving a bunch of similar questions that cause the student to want to rush through. Rushing is often the main cause of errors! Understanding concepts and how to solve them is much more important.