Word Problems: Breaking Down the Problem

by Laurie Laurendeau on November 2, 2011

The very thought of word problems in Math can bring shivers to both children and adults alike.  There seems to be a certain mystery that surrounds word problems, and children from a very young age will often develop an aversion to them. Word problems are at the core of WHY we learn a lot of the Math concepts in the first place, and they are here to stay.  But do not fear!  Today, we will talk about a few simple ways to break down word problems for your child so she learns to love them!

Tip #1:  Read the question carefully!  Many children will glaze over the question, looking for the numbers in the problem, and guess that the numbers need to be added together.  While simple word problems are often constructed like this (unfortunately), many are not, and it is important to teach your child to read the whole question carefully.

Tip #2:  Underline the numbers or number words.  Sometimes, the problem will have the number written in words, which can make it more difficult to go back and find the numbers when it comes time to solve the problem.  It is also useful to write the number (as a numeral) above any number words.

Tip #3: Look for the “clue words”.  Most word problems include some kind of clue words that give a hint as to the operation (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) needed to solve the problem.  Some examples of clue words for addition might include “in all” or “altogether”.  For example: “Mary has 4 pets.  Chris has 3 pets.  How many pets do they have altogether?” Some clue words for subtraction might include “are left” or “how many more…than”.  For example:  “Sue baked twelve cookies.  She ate two of them.  How many cookies were left?” or “Tim has 18 coins in his coin collection.  Matt has 13 coins in his coin collection.  How many more coins does Tim have than Matt?”  Teach your child to find these clue words and underline them.

Tip #4:  Look for TMI (too much information!).  Sometimes word problems try to trick kids by inserting more information than is needed.  This is done simply to ensure that the child is reading the question carefully, and to ensure that she understands the problem as well.  For example:  “Karen is 8 years old.  Her sister Paula is 3 years younger.  Her other sister Megan is 10.  How much older is Karen than Paula?”  We know that her sister Megan is 10, but that is not relevant information to solve this problem.

Tip #5:  Reread the problem, and check your answer.  We tell kids all the time to read over their work.  They don’t like doing it, nor do they see the value of it.  Sometimes, they don’t have time to do it (especially on a timed test).  Get your child in the habit of looking over her work (especially homework) so she can check if her answers make sense and that she did in fact answer the question that was being asked of her.

Please feel free to leave me a comment/question/suggestion for future topics!  Check out www.gigglelearn.com for details about our Addition and Subtraction Math Facts game called “Giggle Facts”!


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