Children hate word problems. There is a sense of fear associated with trying to decode math word problems. How this stigma started I have no idea, but as an educator I aim to put an end to it. Here are 4 easy steps I follow in my classroom to help my students approach word problems in a positive light.
1.) Make word problems part of your everyday teaching – The more the merrier. In my classroom 80% of the questions I give to my students are word problems and not procedural based questions. At first your students will hate this. They will look at you with sheer panic. Don’t back down. We learn best when we practice something daily. Word problems are no different. I use a word problem to start my math block every day. They are hard and conceptual based. Most often my students are not going to successfully solve it on the first try, but it’s the grit I’m targeting. I’m building their stamina.
2.) Don’t be afraid to use multi-step problems – These are even scarier for students. They instantly shut down when they realize there’s a lot to the question. Push your students. Throw in steps that review previous content so there’s a spiral review of curriculum.
3.) Provide your students with a bag of tips and tricks – Most often students fear word problems because they don’t know how to approach them. Like anything unknown you need to teach them how to look for keywords, isolate important information, etc. I like to use the CUBES strategy in my classroom. At the beginning of the year I use a flipbook to introduce tips for solving word problems. My students reference back to this flipbook throughout the year. You can find this flipbook here.
4.) Make it personal and real life – Your students will respond differently if they can visualize themselves or their friends in a word problem. Don’t be afraid to write your own questions. Use the names of your students or the hobbies they are interested in. When my students were obsessed with Rubric’s Cubes, they were part of my word problem. A very easy but effective step.
With time your students will start to embrace the challenge of word problems. Shower your students with word problems and you will be on your way to building a classroom of problem solvers.