Word problems can be such a tricky skill for little ones. Not only do some states, schools, assessments require students to read them, but they also have to comprehend them, understand what the problem is asking them to do, understand the math strategies, apply them and solve all at once. It can be frustrating not only for the students but also the teachers. When I taught first grade in North Carolina, there was a major emphasis on word problems. It was a skill on the state assessment for the higher grades and word problems were included on all the county tests for the younger grades. In order to help my students become familiar with the different types of word problems and to help them understand, I sat down and created a word problem for every day of the school year. 180 to be exact. It took me so long that I started to HATE word problems. This product made me want to poke my eyes out. But I’m so glad I made it because it was a HUGE help to my first graders.
I ran the problems that I wanted to use for the month and put them in baggies.
The students would glue them in the top of their math journals. We would read the word problem together every day and discuss how we got our answer. Pretty simple right?
Then I moved to Maryland. Word problems took on a WHOLE NEW LIFE. I actually took a math training that gave me step by step instructions on how to execute word problems in the classroom. This training was very precise in teaching me the ways of the word problem. I went from taking 5 minutes to do a word problem to around 10-12 minutes. And my students got VERY good at understanding the word problems and knowing what strategies to use to solve. This particular year, the county I worked in provided me with the word problems so I didn’t end up using my own. Below are the step by step instructions that I learned from my training.
Tools needed: Wipe off boards and markers for each student OR a math notebook
EVERY SINGLE DAY we started our math block with number talks. Then, we jumped right into our word problem of the day. It was routine. Like clockwork. The students would first come to the rug for number talks, then all I had to say was “word problem” and they would walk back to their seats and get out their wipe off boards and markers. Some of the teachers I worked with had the students keep their boards and markers in their desks. I had buckets in the middle of the desk groups that housed all the supplies. After my observation later in the year, my Principal said she would like to see the word problems glued into the notebooks from time to time. So, I printed a paper copy a few times a week and had them do the work in their math notebooks.
How I conducted word problems in my classroom:
Step 1: Display the word problem on the Smartboard or whiteboard
*After I displayed it, I would let the students read it silently. Then, I would read it aloud twice. Some students need several times to process.
Step 2: Students begin to solve on their white boards
*This was not a partner activity or anything done with help. They got several minutes of silent time to work on the word problem independently.
Step 3: Get out your notepad and pencil
*While the students silently worked, I walked around the room looking for STRATEGIES. I would write down the names of different students that used different strategies to solve, not just the right answer. Depending on the day, sometimes I would have 3 students on my list, sometimes there would be 6. But I was looking for differentiation and “the new math” isn’t about one way of finding an answer.
Step 4: Have the STUDENTS explain their strategy and how they got to their answer
*If you have a microphone in your classroom that’s great! I had one and the students loved using it. I would call my list of students up, one at a time. They would display their white boards under the document camera and THEY would explain what strategy they used and how they found their answer. I began to notice that some students that would make a simple “math mistake” would see it and express what they did wrong. I would hear a silent “OOOHHHHHH!!!! THAT’S what I did wrong.” (Of course, you have to reinforce it with “that is awesome that you found your math mistake! that’s what makes a great learner!”) Not only that, they were able to continuously review strategies that they perhaps weren’t that strong with.
Of course while all this was taking place, I made sure I had anchor charts up with the different strategies for students to refer to. Mine were never very pretty, but these are really clean and organized…
And of course this one is beautiful and made by my girl Lauren from Teaching in Stripes!
So as you can see, word problems became a PROCESS in our classroom. It’s not something we rushed through every day like I used to do. My 180 Days of Word Problems is still useful for some teachers, and others have requested that I make a paperless version to display on the Smartboard or Whiteboard.