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Puzzled by Word Problems? See the Solution!

Stumped with word problems in math? This engaging strategy helps to picture the solutions.

  • Grade 1
    Grade 2
  • 30 Minutes or Less
  • Directions

    1. Finding the answers to word problems in math can challenge student thinking. Introduce students to this simple problem-solving strategy. When we break word problems into pieces and sketch simple pictures of each step, the solution appears right before our eyes!
    2. Before beginning, find or make up some interesting word problems that the class can try to solve. These can originate with the teacher or students.
    3. A student volunteer reads a math problem to the class, one part at a time (for example, "Tierra has five colorful balloons in her hand"). Draw the items in the problem (5 balloons) with Crayola® Dry-Erase Markers on individual dry-erase boards.
    4. Read the second part of the word problem ("One balloon pops"). Students alter drawings to show the second part of the word problem (use a facial tissue to erase one balloon).
    5. Ask for the answer to the word problem ("How many balloons does Tierra have left?"). Look at drawings for the answer.
    6. Repeat with new problems so everyone has several turns to read and share their solutions.
  • Standards

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    LA: With guidance and support from adults, focus on a topic, respond to questions and suggestions from peers, and add details to strengthen writing as needed.

    LA: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.

    MATH: Represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction.

    MATH: Add and subtract within 20.

    MATH: Use place value understanding and properties of operations to add and subtract.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: Elevator Magic (MathStart Subtracting) by Stuart J. Murphy; Tally O'Malley (MathStart 2) by Stuart J. Murphy; Monster Musical Chairs (MathStart 1) by Stuart J. Murphy

    Students collaborate in small groups to devise ever-more challenging word problems. Student groups compose math word problems and share with classmates. Challenge classmates to find accurate solutions and illustrate them on white boards using Crayola Dry Erase Markers. Think about possible two-step problems.

    The teacher, or group facilitator, writes a math expression on the white board, such as 4 + 3. Members of the group create an illustration of the solution, such as drawing seven bottles. Group members also include the actual digit, or number, solution.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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