Killer Word Problem Strategies

By:  Rachel Mork

Does your child struggle when solving math word problems? Can your child perform basic math computations when presented in isolation but he struggles to extract the math problem from the words on the page? The following strategies for solving math problems will help your child break down the words into math problems he can handle. To understand how this strategy works, you will need to follow through a sample word problem.

Sample Word Problem
There are seventeen kids who want to play outside games. Twelve of the kids want to play kickball, three want to play jump rope and two want to play basketball. It's been raining outside, but the sun has finally come out. If the kids who want to play kickball are going to form two teams, how many kids will be on each team?

Identify
Identify what the main question is. Many word problems have distracting extra information. Have your child underline the actual questions and then underline the information needed to answer that question. In this sample problem, the extra information is: two want to play jump rope and two want to play basketball. It's been raining outside, but the sun has finally come out. Have your child lightly cross out the extra information so he can focus on the important information in the problem. Talk through with your child why that extra information is not important for solving this problem.

Organize
Organize the facts within the problem. How many teams will they form? Two. How many kids are interested in playing? Twelve.

Choose
Choose which functions will serve you best when solving this problem. Is subtraction needed? No. Is addition needed? No. Will you need to multiply? No. You will need to divide the twelve kids into two teams, which would translate into twelve divided by two.

Work
Work the problem. Have your child write out all the steps he takes, plus the answers. Make sure he shows all of his work so the problem can be reworked easily if he gets it wrong. Twelve children divided by two teams is six children on each team. Make sure he writes out the whole answer, not leaving out anything.

Check
Check your answer to make sure it makes sense. Have your child think about the problem logically. For simple problems like this one, ask your child to draw a picture of the problem. Have your child draw twelve stick figures on a piece of scratch paper, and then divide the stick figures in half. Have your child look to see if his answer makes sense or looks right, using logic and imagining the real-life scenario depicted in the question.

Problem solving is a key part of a comprehensive mathematics education, so it's important for your child to master word problems. Most math lessons are geared toward teaching your child techniques that he will one day use in real-life situations, so math word problems are good examples of how math is practically used in the real world. If you show enthusiasm for math word problems and do not fear them, your child will begin to see that math is a practical subject worthy of his attention.