Math Problem Solving: Strategies that Work!

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Well I feel so fortunate!  I am involved in a resource swap and review with some fellow TpT Sellers and boy did I get lucky!  My kids have been struggling with solving word problems in math.  But thanks to Amanda Taylor from Second Grade Smiles, we are now smiling in first grade!  We are mastering word problems!

I want to take you through some of the steps and strategies that we have been using in class, as well as share with you an amazing resource which has helped my students master this difficult task!

We started with some basic word problems.  I thought, no worries, I’ve got this!  We started by reading each problem.  We decided to make a list of strategies we could use in order to tackle word problems.  We came up with a list that looked like this.

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This is great, right?  Well it wasn’t enough.  My students still were having troubles!  So I thought we could make a web of all of the ways we could solve the problems…always starting with reading the problem, circling the numbers, and underlining the key words.  So look at this fantastic web we made:

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Yay!  We are rocking word problems (or so I thought).  Nope!  The confusion was still there about these darned key words.  What were we going to do?  This is where I got lucky, really lucky!  Amanda Taylor had this wonderful product on TpT that addressed this problem exactly…identifying key words in problems in order to successfully solve the problems!

So it was time to regroup, step back, and start again.  I explained to the students that the steps we had been practicing were very important, but that we needed to really tackle those key words.  I decided to teach this as a whole group lesson (previous lessons had been on small groups).  We started with addition.  I projected the problems on the screen in my classroom to save on paper.  The students busted out their Math Journals and we got down to business.

Amanda’s product had everything I needed to teach these essential key words.  First, I ran off the cute little addition and subtraction key words printables for the students to glue into their math journals.  On chart paper, I drew a giant addition key just like Amanda’s.  This would be our anchor chart to use as a reference along with the copies in the student math journals.  As we worked through each problem, we added the key words to the “key”.

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As you can see I modeled circling the number words and underlining the key words the students discovered.  I added these to the anchor chart and the students added them to the keys in their journals.

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We practiced problems together until we had a great bank of key words and then the students practiced some problems independently.

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The kiddos were really catching on and I was super excited about it!  Later the students had the opportunity to practice more problems.  Amanda’s cards can be used in a center as task cards or as a Scoot game.  I opted for using them for the whole group direct instruction and later used them in centers as task cards.  Here is the finished work from one little guy:

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My kids loved working with these key word activities.  They kept saying, “I found the key to unlock the problem!”  It was precious.   If you would like to check out this resource, which I highly recommend, you can find it here.  Just click on the picture.  Amanda will be offering this product for 20% off  Thursday through Sunday.

Number Story Cover for Preview (2)

Number Story Sample Page 3       Number Story Sample Page 2    Number Story Sample Page 1

A few more thoughts on problem solving….

I found it very helpful to also talk to my kids about how they could apply number bonds to solving word problems.  So in our classroom we also have an anchor chart that refers to number bonds so that the kids can reference it when solving more complicated problems, when key words might not be so obvious.  It looks like this:

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This works for a lot of kids.  I encourage them to do what works best for them whether it be draw a picture, write a number sentence, or complete a number bond.  Whatever works!

I hope that you will find something here that you can take back to your classroom to use.  Also, I would love for you to comment on strategies that you have found to work with your students.  Thanks so much for stopping by and a big thanks to Amanda at Second Grade Smiles for creating such a fabulous product!

Nancy

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