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  • Mrs G

Solve Word Problems

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

I will never forget the first day a sweet, quiet student of mine shouted a slew of profanity at me that I will spare you. I was so caught off guard. It was so out of character and it was all about how doing math in you're head "sucks." My first thought was, yes 100 percent agree. But I couldn't say that and at the moment, I couldn't think of any appropriate response so I just stared for a good, long, while.

Two things were true. First, this kiddo should not have voiced their frustration in that way and second I didn’t 100% disagree. Especially when it comes time to solve word problems.

As a student, in fact, even now as an adult, I am baffled by people who can read a word problem and break it down in their head. When they, without any hesitation, produce an answer (let alone a correct answer) I sometimes have to work to keep my mouth closed.

It is a sort of superpower. One that, unfortunately, I never spent time developing. So, for me and for my sweet student, doing math in your head does in fact suck. I imagine we are not alone in this line of thinking.

The Super Problem Solvers

As a teacher, I try to be hyper-aware of my own biases in the classroom because the last thing I want is to pass them along to my students. In the spirit of growing the skill set of solving word problems and in the hope of creating students who will one day be adults with the superpower of doing math in their heads my students participate in our daily Super Problem Solvers Group.

We spend the first weeks of group learning and practicing a 10-step structure for solving word problems.

After the group understands the process fluently, we tackle one challenging word problem each day. Within the group, we take turns being "the expert" on individual steps of the process. This group models a growth mindset and a can-do attitude! Students actually ask to be in it!

Resources for Solving Word Problems

I created workbooks that prompt the students to complete each step in order to receive full credit. Having each step required allows both me and the student to analyze their errors and understand the process of reaching a correct answer.

I start all of my students in the single-digit addition and subtraction workbook even when it is below their performance level since we are initially focused on learning the strategy. Once students know the strategy, it is a security blanket!

Students can then work at their own pace through double-digit addition and subtraction, working with money, multiplication, and division, or mixed operation word problems. A teacher guide, answer key, and visuals are included with each workbook.

If you are working with an elementary student who thinks doing math in your head sucks I encourage you to help them become a Super Problem Solver! You can try it with your students for free.


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