Any primary teacher that has attempted to teach their beloved students how to solve word problems, has surely encountered the Word Problem Woes.
You know the look, that deer in the headlights, have no idea what is going on, "I'm lost Mrs. Ebersole" look. Teaching students how to solve word problems in 1st grade is not an easy task. In fact, the students' ability to solve word problems relies heavily on the students ability to comprehend the words or the situation in the word problem.
Take for example this word problem:
This is an example of one of the word problems I give to my students to start our day as a warm-up.
I incorporate word problems throughout the entire year as a warm-up. We also work on word problems throughout the year in small group instruction.
At the beginning of the school year, I introduce my expectations for our warm-ups and solving word problems. I explain to them that everyday I will read the word problem to them (the important thing is for them to be able to solve the word problems, not read them). I also explain to them that they can use any method I teach them to solve the word problems. As the weeks pass, I introduce different ways and tools to solve the word problems. We use number lines, hundreds charts, manipulatives (counters), draw pictures, as well as I continuously model how to solve the more difficult word problems I see them struggling to successfully solve.
So given the word problem above, many of my students would right away want to add 8 + 2. As I walk around the room, as they are solving, even if I see the majority of them solving it incorrectly, I still give them about 5-7 minutes to work through the problem. I re-read the problem quite a few times for the students who need that repeated direction or extra processing time.
After giving the students a few minutes to solve, I then ask 2 questions. The first thing I ask is, what is this problem asking us to solve? Many students don't even hear what I said, they just want to spew out the answer. I will then repeat myself, and say PLEASE LISTEN--WHAT IS THIS PROBLEM ASKING US TO SOLVE? Sometimes I even have to re-read the problem because they are unsure what the problem is asking them to solve. Then someone will finally say, "it wants us to find how many hearts Jada can cut out." And I may clap or I may do a cheer, but either way, I make a big deal that they understood what the problem is asking of us.
The 2nd question I ask them, with EVERY word problem, is what do we know? Meaning when we read this problem, what do we know about what is happening. Of course in the word problem above, the answer I am looking for is "We know that each piece of paper can be made into 8 hearts, AND we also know that Jada has 2 pieces of paper".
So after we review those 2 questions What is this problem asking us to solve, and what do we know---I then will give them some more think time (if needed). This gives the students the chance to go back and check their work, or go back and start over and change their work and answer.
I will then ask students, what answer did you get? I'll have a few students share, after each one stating their answer, I'll ask their peers, do you agree or disagree? Thumbs up or down? After giving me their answer, I'll have them tell me how they solved. Some students prefer to draw a picture, some prefer number lines, others prefer hands on manipulatives.
With the word problems that I see quite a few students struggle on, I will model how to solve. Like in the word problem shown above, I would draw the 2 pieces of paper that Jada had, and I will draw 8 hearts on each piece of paper. And with some word problems, I may model various ways to solve it.
I encourage my students to really think about the word problem and what it's asking us to solve. We focus on the things we know that are happening in the word problem, and we go from there. I have found this way to be very successful for the students in my classroom. Many of them struggle with comprehension, so breaking it down into smaller chunks is key to their success.
If you are interested in checking out my word problem sets, I have them currently available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store, or you can click the images below!