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How to Teach Kids to Solve Math Word Problems

author image Tricia Ballad
Tricia Ballad is a writer, author and project geek. She has written several books including two novels, teaches classes on goal setting and project planning for writers, and loves to cook in her spare time. She is living proof that you can earn a living with a degree in creative writing.
How to Teach Kids to Solve Math Word Problems
A young girl working on a math problem at her desk. Photo Credit: ERproductions Ltd/Blend Images/Getty Images

Proficiency with word problems is important because they present real-life math issues that your youngster is likely to experience both professionally and personally. Even with strong math skills, a child may have difficulty solving word problems without using reading and analytical skills in the process. Strengthen your child's ability to solve word problems by providing guidance and opportunities for practice.

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Step 1

Teach mathematical literacy skills. Kids cannot be expected to solve problems if they do not understand them. Ask your child to read a word problem out loud, then discuss the scenario described. Verify that your child understood all the vocabulary in the description of the problem, and that she grasps the general idea that is being described.

Step 2

Ask your child to read the problem again, this time to discover what he is being asked to do. Most word problems include a specific question to be answered or task to be performed. It is critical that your child be able to identify and define this element of the word problem before he continues on.

Step 3

Teach your child to identify all the potentially important data, or clues, provided in the word problem. She can underline important phrases or copy them onto her paper. When she has isolated all the potentially important data, ask her to analyze each piece of data for relevance. Remind her that sometimes word problems include information that is interesting but not necessary for solving the problem.

Step 4

Ask your child to identify the mathematical processes he should use to solve the problem or complete the task. Encourage him to translate the data he has isolated into a mathematical formula or equation.

Step 5

Ask your child to solve the equation or problem she has set up with the data from the word problem. When she arrives at a solution, ask her to re-read the word problem and decide whether her solution makes sense. For example, if the word problem asks her to find the percentage of students with blue eyes in a class, and her answer is 342, she probably made a mistake either in setting up the math problem or in calculating the answer. Help her go back over her reasoning process to find the error and correct it.

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