Developing Problem-Solving Skills for Kids | Strategies & Tips
We've made teaching problem-solving skills for kids a whole lot easier! Keep reading and comment below with any other tips you have for your classroom!
Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: The Real Deal
Picture this: You've carefully created an assignment for your class. The step-by-step instructions are crystal clear. During class time, you walk through all the directions, and the response is awesome. Your students are ready! It's finally time for them to start working individually and then... 8 hands shoot up with questions. You hear one student mumble in the distance, "Wait, I don't get this" followed by the dreaded, "What are we supposed to be doing again?"
When I was a new computer science teacher, I would have this exact situation happen. As a result, I would end up scrambling to help each individual student with their problems until half the class period was eaten up. I assumed that in order for my students to learn best, I needed to be there to help answer questions immediately so they could move forward and complete the assignment.
Here's what I wish I had known when I started teaching coding to elementary students - the process of grappling with an assignment's content can be more important than completing the assignment's product. That said, not every student knows how to grapple, or struggle, in order to get to the "aha!" moment and solve a problem independently. The good news is, the ability to creatively solve problems is not a fixed skill. It can be learned by students, nurtured by teachers, and practiced by everyone!
Your students are absolutely capable of navigating and solving problems on their own. Here are some strategies, tips, and resources that can help:
Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: Student Strategies
These are strategies your students can use during independent work time to become creative problem solvers.
1. Go Step-By-Step Through The Problem-Solving Sequence
Post problem-solving anchor charts and references on your classroom wall or pin them to your Google Classroom - anything to make them accessible to students. When they ask for help, invite them to reference the charts first.
2. Revisit Past Problems
If a student gets stuck, they should ask themself, "Have I ever seen a problem like this before? If so, how did I solve it?" Chances are, your students have tackled something similar already and can recycle the same strategies they used before to solve the problem this time around.
3. Document What Doesn’t Work
Sometimes finding the answer to a problem requires the process of elimination. Have your students attempt to solve a problem at least two different ways before reaching out to you for help. Even better, encourage them write down their "Not-The-Answers" so you can see their thought process when you do step in to support. Cool thing is, you likely won't need to! By attempting to solve a problem in multiple different ways, students will often come across the answer on their own.
4. "3 Before Me"
Let's say your students have gone through the Problem Solving Process, revisited past problems, and documented what doesn't work. Now, they know it's time to ask someone for help. Great! But before you jump into save the day, practice "3 Before Me". This means students need to ask 3 other classmates their question before asking the teacher. By doing this, students practice helpful 21st century skills like collaboration and communication, and can usually find the info they're looking for on the way.
Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: Teacher Tips
These are tips that you, the teacher, can use to support students in developing creative problem-solving skills for kids.
1. Ask Open Ended Questions
When a student asks for help, it can be tempting to give them the answer they're looking for so you can both move on. But what this actually does is prevent the student from developing the skills needed to solve the problem on their own. Instead of giving answers, try using open-ended questions and prompts. Here are some examples:
2. Encourage Grappling
Grappling is everything a student might do when faced with a problem that does not have a clear solution. As explained in this article from Edutopia , this doesn't just mean perseverance! Grappling is more than that - it includes critical thinking, asking questions, observing evidence, asking more questions, forming hypotheses, and constructing a deep understanding of an issue.
There are lots of ways to provide opportunities for grappling. Anything that includes the Engineering Design Process is a good one! Examples include:
- Engineering or Art Projects
- Design-thinking challenges
- Computer science projects
- Science experiments
3. Emphasize Process Over Product
For elementary students, reflecting on the process of solving a problem helps them develop a growth mindset . Getting an answer "wrong" doesn't need to be a bad thing! What matters most are the steps they took to get there and how they might change their approach next time. As a teacher, you can support students in learning this reflection process.
4. Model The Strategies Yourself!
As creative problem-solving skills for kids are being learned, there will likely be moments where they are frustrated or unsure. Here are some easy ways you can model what creative problem-solving looks and sounds like.
- Ask clarifying questions if you don't understand something
- Admit when don't know the correct answer
- Talk through multiple possible outcomes for different situations
- Verbalize how you’re feeling when you find a problem
Practicing these strategies with your students will help create a learning environment where grappling, failing, and growing is celebrated!
Problem-Solving Skill for Kids
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How to Teach Problem-Solving Skills to Children and Preteens
- By Ashley Cullins
Whether it’s a toy-related conflict, a tough math equation, or negative peer pressure, kids of ALL ages face problems and challenges on a daily basis.
As parents or teachers, we can’t always be there to solve every problem for our children. In fact, this isn’t our job. Our job is to TEACH our children how to solve problems by themselves . This way, they can become confident , independent, and successful individuals.
Instead of giving up or getting frustrated when they encounter a challenge, kids with problem-solving skills manage their emotions, think creatively, and persist until they find a solution. Naturally, these abilities go hand-in-hand with a growth mindset .
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our FREE Your Words Matter Volume 2 Kit . With these 10 one-page parenting guides, you will know exactly how to speak to your child to help them stand up for themselves, be more confident, and develop a growth mindset.
So HOW do you teach problem-solving skills to kids?
Well, it depends on their age . As cognitive abilities and the size of the child’s challenges grow/evolve over time, so should your approach to teaching problem-solving skills.
Read on to learn key strategies for teaching problem-solving to kids, as well as some age-by-age ideas and activities.
3 General Strategies to Teach Problem-Solving at Any Age
1. model effective problem-solving .
When YOU encounter a challenge, do a “think-aloud” for the benefit of your child. MODEL how to apply the same problem-solving skills you’ve been working on together, giving the real-world examples that she can implement in her own life.
At the same time, show your child a willingness to make mistakes . Everyone encounters problems, and that’s okay. Sometimes the first solution you try won’t work, and that’s okay too!
When you model problem-solving, explain that there are some things that are out of our control. As we're solving a problem at hand we should focus on the things we CAN actually control.
You and your child can listen to Episode 35 of the Big Life Kids Podcast to learn about focusing on what you can control.
2. Ask for Advice
Ask your kids for advice when you have a problem. This teaches them that it’s common to make mistakes and face challenges. It also gives them the opportunity to practice problem-solving skills.
Plus, when you indicate that their ideas are valued , they’ll gain the confidence to attempt solving problems on their own.
3. Don’t Provide “The Answer”
As difficult as it may be, allow your child to struggle, sometimes fail , and ultimately LEARN from experiencing consequences.
Now, let’s take a look at some age-specific strategies and activities. The ages listed below are general guidelines, feel free to choose any strategies or activities that you feel will work for YOUR child.
Use Emotion Coaching
To step into a problem-solving mindset, young children need to first learn to manage their emotions . After all, it’s difficult for a small child to logically consider solutions to a problem if he’s mid-tantrum.
One way to accomplish this is by using the emotion coaching process outlined by John Gottman.
First, teach your kids that ALL emotions are acceptable. There are NO “bad” emotions. Even seemingly negative emotions like anger, sadness, and frustration can teach us valuable lessons. What matters is how we respond to these emotions.
Second, follow this process:
- Step One: Naming and validating emotions. When your child is upset, help her process the way she’s feeling. Say something like, “I understand that you’re upset because Jessica is playing with the toy you wanted.”
- Step Two: Processing emotions. Guide your child to her calming space. If she doesn't have one, it's a good idea to create one. Let her calm her body and process her emotions so she can problem-solve, learn, and grow.
- Step Three: Problem Solving. Brainstorm solutions with your child, doing more LISTENING than talking during the conversation. This allows your child to practice her problem-solving skills, and she’s more likely to actually implement the solutions she came up with herself.
Say, “Show Me the Hard Part”
When your child struggles or feels frustrated, try a technique suggested by mom and parenting blogger Lauren Tamm . Simply say, “Show me the hard part.”
This helps your child identify the ROOT of the problem, making it less intimidating and easier to solve.
Repeat back what your child says, “So you’re saying…”
Once you both understand the real problem, prompt your child to come up with solutions . “There must be some way you can fix that…” or “There must be something you can do…”
Now that your child has identified “the hard part,” she’ll likely be able to come up with a solution. If not, help her brainstorm some ideas. You may try asking the question, “If you DID know, what would you think?” and see what she comes up with.
Problem-Solve with Creative Play
Allow your child to choose activities and games based on her interests . Free play provides plenty of opportunities to navigate and creatively solve problems.
Children often learn best through play. Playing with items like blocks, simple puzzles, and dress-up clothes can teach your child the process of problem-solving.
Even while playing, your child thinks critically: Where does this puzzle piece fit? What does this do? I want to dress up as a queen. What should I wear? Where did I put my tiara? Is it under the couch?
Problem-Solve with Storybooks
Read age-appropriate stories featuring characters who experience problems, such as:
- Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy by Jacky Davis: The story of two friends who want to play together but can’t find a game to agree on. After taking turns making suggestions, they arrive at a game they both want to play: Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy.
- The Curious George Series by Margaret and H.E. Rey: A curious little monkey gets into and out of dilemmas, teaching kids to find solutions to problems of their own.
- Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber: Ira’s thrilled to have a sleepover at his friend Reggie’s house. But there’s one problem: Should he or should he not bring his teddy bear? It may seem small, but this is the type of early social problem your child might relate to.
Connect these experiences to similar events in your child’s own life, and ASK your child HOW the characters in these stories could solve their problems. Encourage a variety of solutions, and discuss the possible outcomes of each.
This is a form of dialogue reading , or actively ENGAGING your child in the reading experience. Interacting with the text instead of passively listening can “turbocharge” the development of literacy skills such as comprehension in preschool-aged children.
By asking questions about the characters’ challenges, you can also give your child’s problem-solving abilities a boost.
You can even have your child role-play the problem and potential solutions to reinforce the lesson.
For book suggestions, refer to our Top 85 Growth Mindset Books for Children & Adults list.
Teach the Problem-Solving Steps
Come up with a simple problem-solving process for your child, one that you can consistently implement. For example, you might try the following five steps:
- Step 1: What am I feeling? Help your child understand what she’s feeling in the moment (frustration, anger, curiosity, disappointment, excitement, etc.) Noticing and naming emotions will diffuse their charge and give your child a chance to take a step back.
- Step 2: What’s the problem? Guide your child to identify the specific problem. In most cases, help her take responsibility for what happened rather than pointing fingers. For instance, instead of, “Joey got me in trouble at recess,” your child might say, “I got in trouble at recess for arguing with Joey.”
- Step 3: What are the solutions? Encourage your child to come up with as many solutions as possible. At this point, they don’t even need to be “good” solutions. They’re just brainstorming here, not yet evaluating the ideas they’ve generated.
- Step 4: What would happen if…? What would happen if your child attempted each of these solutions? Is the solution safe and fair? How will it make others feel? You can also try role-playing at this step. It’s important for your child to consider BOTH positive and negative consequences of her actions.
- Step 5: Which one will I try? Ask your child to pick one or more solutions to try. If the solution didn't work, discuss WHY and move on to another one. Encourage your child to keep trying until the problem is solved.
Consistently practice these steps so that they become second nature, and model solving problems of your own the same way. It's a good idea to reflect : What worked? What didn’t? What can you do differently next time?
Problem-Solve with Craft Materials
Crafting is another form of play that can teach kids to solve problems creatively.
Provide your child with markers, modeling clay, cardboard boxes, tape, paper, etc. They’ll come up with all sorts of interesting creations and inventive games with these simple materials.
These “open-ended toys” don’t have a “right way to play,” allowing your child to get creative and generate ideas independently .
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Asking open-ended questions improves a child’s ability to think critically and creatively, ultimately making them better problem-solvers. Examples of open-ended questions include:
- How could we work together to solve this?
- How did you work it out? or How do you know that?
- Tell me about what you built, made, or created.
- What do you think will happen next?
- What do you think would happen if…?
- What did you learn?
- What was easy? What was hard?
- What would you do differently next time?
Open-ended questions have no right answer and can’t be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.”
You can ask open-ended questions even when your child isn’t currently solving a problem to help her practice her thinking skills, which will come in handy when she does have a problem to solve.
If you need some tips on how to encourage a growth mindset in your child, don't forget to download our FREE Your Words Matter Volume 2 Kit .
Break Down Problems into Chunks
This strategy is a more advanced version of “Show me the hard part.”
The bigger your child gets, the bigger her problems get too. When your child is facing a challenge that seems overwhelming or insurmountable, encourage her to break it into smaller, more manageable chunks.
For instance, let’s say your child has a poor grade in history class. Why is the grade so low? What are the causes of this problem?
As usual, LISTEN as your child brainstorms, asking open-ended questions to help if she gets stuck.
If the low grade is the result of missing assignments, perhaps your child can make a list of these assignments and tackle them one at a time. Or if tests are the issue, what’s causing your child to struggle on exams?
Perhaps she’s distracted by friends in the class, has trouble asking for help, and doesn’t spend enough time studying at home. Once you’ve identified these “chunks,” help your child tackle them one at a time until the problem is solved.
Show “ The Broken Escalator Video ”
Discuss the importance of embracing challenges and solving problems independently with the “broken escalator video.”
In the video, an escalator unexpectedly breaks. The people on the escalator are “stuck” and yelling for help. At this age, it’s likely that your child will find the video funny and immediately offer a solution: “Just walk! Get off the escalator!”
Tell your child that this is a simple example of how people sometimes act in difficult situations. Ask, “Why do you think they didn’t get off the escalator?” (they didn’t know how, they were waiting for help, etc.)
Sometimes, your child might feel “stuck” when facing problems. They may stop and ask for help before even attempting to find a solution. Encourage your child to embrace challenges and work through problems instead.
Problem-Solve with Prompts
Provide your child or a group of children with materials such as straws, cotton balls, yarn, clothespins, tape, paper clips, sticky notes, Popsicle sticks, etc.
With just these materials, challenge your kids to solve unusual problems like:
- Make a leprechaun trap
- Create a jump ramp for cars
- Design your own game with rules
- Make a device for two people to communicate with one another
This is a fun way to practice critical thinking and creative problem-solving. Most likely, it will take multiple attempts to find a solution that works, which can apply to just about any aspect of life.
Make Them Work for It
When your child asks for a new toy, technology, or clothes, have her make a plan to obtain the desired item herself. Not only will your child have to brainstorm and evaluate solutions, but she’ll also gain confidence .
Ask your child HOW she can earn the money for the item that she wants, and encourage her as she works toward her goal .
Put It on Paper
Have your child write out their problems on paper and brainstorm some potential solutions.
But now, she takes this process a step further: After attempting each solution, which succeeded? Which were unsuccessful? Why ?
This helps your child reflect on various outcomes, learning what works and what doesn’t. The lessons she learns here will be useful when she encounters similar problems in the future.
Play Chess Together
Learning to play chess is a great way for kids to learn problem-solving AND build their brains at the same time. It requires players to use critical thinking, creativity, analysis of the board, recognize patterns, and more. There are online versions of the game, books on how to play, videos, and other resources. Don’t know how to play? Learn with your teen to connect and problem solve together!
Have Them Learn To Code
Our teens and tweens are already tech-savvy and can use their skills to solve problems by learning to code. Coding promotes creativity, logic, planning, and persistence . There are many great tools and online or in-person programs that can boost your child’s coding skills.
Encourage to Start a Meaningful Project
This project has to be meaningful to your teen, for example starting a YouTube channel. Your teen will practice problem-solving skills as they’re figuring out how to grow their audience, how to have their videos discovered, and much more.
In the Big Life Journal - Teen Edition , there’s a section that guides them through planning their YouTube channel and beginning the problem-solving process.
Apply the SODAS Method
Looking for a game plan that your teen can employ when faced with a problem? The SODAS method can be used for big or small problems. Just remember this simple acronym and follow these ideas:
- D isadvantages
- A dvantages
Encourage to Join Problem-Solving Groups
Does your teen enjoy solving problems in a team? Have them join a group or club that helps them hone their skills in a variety of settings--from science and robotics to debating and international affairs. Some examples of groups include:
- Odyssey of the Mind
- Debate team
- Science Olympiad
Looking for additional resources? The Bestseller’s Bundle includes our three most popular printable kits packed with science-based activities, guides, and crafts for children. Our Growth Mindset Kit, Resilience Kit, and Challenges Kit work together as a comprehensive system designed specifically for children ages 5-11.
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25 thoughts on “ How to Teach Problem-Solving Skills to Children and Preteens ”
I love, love, love the point about emotional coaching. It’s so important to identify how children are feeling about a problem and then approach the solutions accordingly.
Thank you for putting this together. I wrote an article on problem-solving specifically from the point of view of developing a STEM aptitude in kids, if you like to check it out – https://kidpillar.com/how-to-teach-problem-solving-to-your-kids-5-8-years/
I feel that these techniques will work for my kid.. Worthy.. Thank you
I love you guys
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Third Grade Word Problems: How to Help Your 3rd Grader Learn Problem Solving
Figuring out math word problems is a great way for third graders to practice solving real-world problems. Because 3rd graders are still learning basic math skills, word problems at this level are simple and straightforward. They provide an opportunity for you to teach fundamental problem-solving skills using the pointers below.
Teaching Third Graders Problem-Solving Skills
Clarify your thinking.
To teach your third-grader how to solve a math problem, you need to know the thought processes that you use to solve problems. Be aware of the steps you take. You may need to translate automatic processes that you follow into conscious ones that you can verbalize to your child.
Teach with Demonstrations
Model how to solve a number of problems and have your child follow along step by step. Focus on problems that use only one kind of operation (e.g., addition) until he can do them easily. Then, have him do problems by himself before you go on to demonstrate problems that require different operations.
As you demonstrate how to solve a problem, think out loud, being sure your child understands each step. Your logical thinking will be the basic skill you teach through demonstration. You'll also be teaching her how to identify what information in the problem is useful and what is just for 'decoration.' Your child will also learn how to choose which operation or operations to use to solve the problem.
Children tend to notice only the numbers given in a word problem. Learning to focus on the relationships between the numbers in the problems will help your child solve the problems more easily. Have your child create his own word problems that are especially relevant to his life. For instance, he might calculate the allowance he receives each week minus the amount he has to save, which would equal the money he can spend. This activity may help him be more aware of the relationship between the numbers, rather than the numbers themselves.
If your child doesn't know how to begin solving a word problem, it can be helpful to teach her a variety of strategies. These include:
- Arranging facts in a list or table
- Making a picture or diagram
- Seeing if there is a pattern
- Using objects to 'act out' the problem
- Trial and error - trying something to see if it works
Teach Basic Steps
There are basic steps that your child can follow to solve a word problem. As you perform them, you can say, 'The first thing we do is . . . ', and 'Next, we . . .'
These steps are:
- Read the whole problem carefully until you understand it.
- Underline or highlight the part of the problem that shows the question you need to answer. Sometimes it helps to restate the question in your own words.
- Circle the numbers and words that you'll use to find the answer.
- Decide whether you need to add, subtract, multiply or divide (more than one of these operations may be used) and which numbers to use for the operation, or each operation that's necessary. Look for guide words as clues.
- Solve the problem, then check your math. Also be sure that the answer is logical.
Teach Guide Words
Word problems often include guide words, which are specific words that tell you whether to add, subtract, multiply or divide.
Words for Addition:
- Increased by
Words for Subtraction:
- Decreased by
- How much more
Words for Multiplication:
- Multiplied by
Words for Division:
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Hangman may not be as hip as the newest video game, but this classic word game still remains a surefire way to increase your child's vocabulary and interest in reading and writing.
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180 Days of Problem Solving for Third Grade
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Build Confidence with Math Problem Solving
Daily Problem Solving will help your 3rd grade students master the skills they need to be successful with challenging word problems...and have fun doing it .
What you'll get with this download:
Your download includes a full week of Daily Problem Solving for Grade 3 to try out in your own classroom. Developed with the brain in mind, these multi-step word problems will challenge your learners without overwhelming them. Best of all, you'll be able to watch their skills and confidence grow as they begin to internalize strategies for conquering this difficult math skill.
FUN & ENGAGING
Themed-problems and a weekly fun fact make it easy to keep learners engaged
Formatted for quick & easy implementation that won't add stress to your planning
PRINT & DIGITAL
Includes both print and digital student options for added flexibility
Help Students Master Math Word Problems
I've been using this with my extremely anxious learner and it works wonders to build confidence because we see the improvement.
These have given me such an insight into my students' abilities, and I've watched them improve their skills and successfully solve multi-step word problems.
You'll receive a full week of printable Daily Problem Solving practice for your students. This format includes:
- Paper-saving format that fits a full week on one page
- Space for student work, feedback, and self-reflection
- Themed problems & weekly fun fact to engage
Daily digital slides offer your remote or online learners the opportunity to build problem-solving skills in a structured format designed for success.
- Single slide per day prevents overwhelm or distraction
- Organized with clear space to solve & answer
- Engaging graphics, themed problems, & fun facts
Don’t wait, get started helping your learners master word problems today!
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Teaching 3rd Graders Problem Solving Skills
Word problems can often be meant with grunts and moans when the time comes to learn. For some reason word problems in all grade levels have become a tricky topic to teach. In this blog, learn effective strategies for teaching 3rd graders problems solving skills to empower your students to become confident problem solvers.
Help students identify word problems
One one of the biggest first hurdles is that the students have not yet recognized the word problem is a word problem, and as a result, haven’t taken the time to pause and reflect on what their steps to solve the problem is. Word problems require students to decipher the problem, extract relevant information, and apply appropriate mathematical operations to find a solution.
- Step 1: Students need to pause to define the word problem and the purpose of the word problem
- Step 2 : Students need to know the difference between the types of word problems (e.g., addition, subtraction, multiplication, division)
- Step 3: Students need to be able to identify keywords and phrases that show them what the problem is asking them to do.
For this strategy, students need to highlight and circle the different actions taking place in the word problem so they can better understand what they’re supposed to solve.
Developing a problem-solving mindset
Before diving into problem-solving strategies, it’s crucial to cultivate a problem-solving mindset in your students.
Encourage critical thinking by:
- Asking open-ended questions
- promoting curiosity
- fostering a safe space for taking risks
- Build confidence by acknowledging and celebrating students’ efforts
- Provide constructive feedback.
Creating a positive learning environment will help students approach word problems with enthusiasm and resilience.
Step by Step problem solving approach
To guide your students through the problem-solving process, introduce them to a step-by-step approach:
- Read and Understand the Problem: Break down the problem into smaller parts, underline key information, and identify what the problem is asking.
- Plan the Solution: Choose an appropriate strategy based on the problem’s requirements, such as drawing a picture, making a chart, or using manipulatives. Determine the necessary mathematical operations to solve the problem.
- Solve the Problem: Implement the chosen strategy and perform calculations accurately. Encourage students to show their work and explain their reasoning.
- Check the Solution: Verify the answer against the given problem, ensuring it aligns with the original question. Reflect on the solution’s reasonability and whether it makes sense in the context of the problem.
Effective teaching strategies
- Model and Think Aloud: Demonstrate problem-solving steps by thinking aloud and explaining your thought processes. Show students how to break down the problem and select appropriate strategies.
- Scaffolded Practice: Gradually release responsibility to students by providing guided practice opportunities. Offer support and guidance as needed, gradually reducing assistance as students become more confident.
- Engaging Activities and Resources: Utilize manipulatives, visuals, and real-world examples to make word problems relatable and engaging. Connect word problems to other subjects to demonstrate their relevance in different contexts.
Common Challenges when teaching word problems
Some common challenges students may face include language barriers, difficulty with multiple steps or operations, and diverse learning needs. Address these challenges by:
- Simplifying language and providing vocabulary support.
- Breaking down complex problems into smaller, manageable steps.
- Differentiating instruction to meet the needs of individual students through modifications or additional resources.
Reinforcing problem solving skills
Consistent practice is key to strengthening problem-solving abilities. Provide regular opportunities for students to solve word problems, both in class and as homework. Integrate word problems across the curriculum to demonstrate their applicability in different subjects. Celebrate students’ achievements and growth to foster a positive learning environment.
By understanding word problems, developing a problem-solving mindset, and following a step-by-step approach, students can build the skills and confidence necessary to tackle any mathematical challenge that comes their way. By equipping 3rd graders with these invaluable problem-solving skills, we empower them to become critical thinkers and confident learners in mathematics and beyond.
Amber is veteran teacher that built a successful TPT business before being recruited to lead social media and content marketing strategy for two Ed-Tech brands. She loves using her unique knowledge of the teacher marketing space to help teachers grow and scale their business with the right digital marketing strategies.
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Unit 8: Arithmetic patterns and problem solving
About this unit, 2-step expressions.
- Order of operations (2-step expressions) (Opens a modal)
- 2-step expressions Get 5 of 7 questions to level up!
Estimation word problems
- 2-step estimation word problems (Opens a modal)
- 2-step estimation word problems Get 3 of 4 questions to level up!
One and two-step word problems
- Setting up 2-step word problems (Opens a modal)
- 2-step word problem: truffles (Opens a modal)
- 2-step word problem: running (Opens a modal)
- 2-step word problem: theater (Opens a modal)
- Represent 2-step word problems with equations Get 3 of 4 questions to level up!
- 2-step word problems Get 3 of 4 questions to level up!
Patterns in arithmetic
- Finding patterns in numbers (Opens a modal)
- Recognizing number patterns (Opens a modal)
- Intro to even and odd numbers (Opens a modal)
- Patterns with multiplying even and odd numbers (Opens a modal)
- Patterns in hundreds chart (Opens a modal)
- Patterns in multiplication tables (Opens a modal)
- Arithmetic patterns and problem solving: FAQ (Opens a modal)
- Math patterns Get 5 of 7 questions to level up!
- Patterns with even and odd Get 3 of 4 questions to level up!
- Patterns in hundreds chart Get 3 of 4 questions to level up!
- Patterns in multiplication tables Get 5 of 7 questions to level up!
FREE EDITABLE PARAGRAPH RUBRIC? YES, PLEASE!
Strategies for Solving Word Problems – Math
It’s one thing to solve a math equation when all of the numbers are given to you but with word problems, when you start adding reading to the mix, that’s when it gets especially tricky.
The simple addition of those words ramps up the difficulty (and sometimes the math anxiety) by about 100!
How can you help your students become confident word problem solvers? By teaching your students to solve word problems in a step by step, organized way, you will give them the tools they need to solve word problems in a much more effective way.
Here are the seven strategies I use to help students solve word problems.
1. read the entire word problem.
Before students look for keywords and try to figure out what to do, they need to slow down a bit and read the whole word problem once (and even better, twice). This helps kids get the bigger picture to be able to understand it a little better too.
2. Think About the Word Problem
Students need to ask themselves three questions every time they are faced with a word problem. These questions will help them to set up a plan for solving the problem.
Here are the questions:
A. what exactly is the question.
What is the problem asking? Often times, curriculum writers include extra information in the problem for seemingly no good reason, except maybe to train kids to ignore that extraneous information (grrrr!). Students need to be able to stay focused, ignore those extra details, and find out what the real question is in a particular problem.
B. What do I need in order to find the answer?
Students need to narrow it down, even more, to figure out what is needed to solve the problem, whether it’s adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, or some combination of those. They’ll need a general idea of which information will be used (or not used) and what they’ll be doing.
This is where key words become very helpful. When students learn to recognize that certain words mean to add (like in all, altogether, combined ), while others mean to subtract, multiply, or to divide, it helps them decide how to proceed a little better
Here’s a Key Words Chart I like to use for teaching word problems. The handout could be copied at a smaller size and glued into interactive math notebooks. It could be placed in math folders or in binders under the math section if your students use binders.
One year I made huge math signs (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and divide symbols) and wrote the keywords around the symbols. These served as a permanent reminder of keywords for word problems in the classroom.
If you’d like to download this FREE Key Words handout, click here:
C. What information do I already have?
This is where students will focus in on the numbers which will be used to solve the problem.
3. Write on the Word Problem
This step reinforces the thinking which took place in step number two. Students use a pencil or colored pencils to notate information on worksheets (not books of course, unless they’re consumable). There are lots of ways to do this, but here’s what I like to do:
- Circle any numbers you’ll use.
- Lightly cross out any information you don’t need.
- Underline the phrase or sentence which tells exactly what you’ll need to find.
4. Draw a Simple Picture and Label It
Drawing pictures using simple shapes like squares, circles, and rectangles help students visualize problems. Adding numbers or names as labels help too.
For example, if the word problem says that there were five boxes and each box had 4 apples in it, kids can draw five squares with the number four in each square. Instantly, kids can see the answer so much more easily!
5. Estimate the Answer Before Solving
Having a general idea of a ballpark answer for the problem lets students know if their actual answer is reasonable or not. This quick, rough estimate is a good math habit to get into. It helps students really think about their answer’s accuracy when the problem is finally solved.
6. Check Your Work When Done
This strategy goes along with the fifth strategy. One of the phrases I constantly use during math time is, Is your answer reasonable ? I want students to do more than to be number crunchers but to really think about what those numbers mean.
Also, when students get into the habit of checking work, they are more apt to catch careless mistakes, which are often the root of incorrect answers.
7. Practice Word Problems Often
Just like it takes practice to learn to play the clarinet, to dribble a ball in soccer, and to draw realistically, it takes practice to become a master word problem solver.
When students practice word problems, often several things happen. Word problems become less scary (no, really).
They start to notice similarities in types of problems and are able to more quickly understand how to solve them. They will gain confidence even when dealing with new types of word problems, knowing that they have successfully solved many word problems in the past.
If you’re looking for some word problem task cards, I have quite a few of them for 3rd – 5th graders.
This 3rd grade math task cards bundle has word problems in almost every one of its 30 task card sets..
There are also specific sets that are dedicated to word problems and two-step word problems too. I love these because there’s a task card set for every standard.
CLICK HERE to take a look at 3rd grade:
This 4th Grade Math Task Cards Bundle also has lots of word problems in almost every single of its 30 task card sets. These cards are perfect for centers, whole class, and for one on one.
CLICK HERE to see 4th grade:
This 5th Grade Math Task Cards Bundle is also loaded with word problems to give your students focused practice.
CLICK HERE to take a look at 5th grade:
Want to try a FREE set of math task cards to see what you think?
3rd Grade: Rounding Whole Numbers Task Cards
4th Grade: Convert Fractions and Decimals Task Cards
5th Grade: Read, Write, and Compare Decimals Task Cards
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