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10 Strategies to help kids solve Math Word Problems

Updated on September 1, 2017
Make solving word problems easy!
Make solving word problems easy!

Parent and teachers teach your children to not be afraid of math problems

Often when children, especially struggling learners, see word problems they become frustrated and unable to process the steps needed to accurately solve for answers. In this article, you will learn how to help your child take their time and use strategies to help them find answers and understand. Many curricula now teach math with different strategies to help all learners. We all have our own uniqueness and just because one child understands how to use the traditional algorithm that does not mean that the next child will understand it. Some children are grades below level others are above their grade level. So it is important to offer kids different ways to solve problems. We need to shift the mindsets we have about math education. Often people seem content to say " oh i am just not good at math". But what if kids and adults had higher expectations for themselves about learning math?

Strategy 1: Read carefully and use bar models!!

Sometimes just looking at a word problem makes some kids dizzy. They forget about strategies and all they want to do is easily pick an answer.

One of the most tedious yet most important steps in solving word problems is to read them for understanding. Reading a passage twice can help a child better comprehend the question they need to solve. Bar models help students create a model of what they read in order to decipher what they know and what they need to find to solve. For example, if I know how many is in my total and how many groups make up my total, I am missing the size of each group.

Strategy 2: Put a "Q" around the question

A lot of children benefit from visual aids, Once they know what the question or the task is they are required to solve, putting a large Q around that question will help some kids separate the words and see clues better.

Strategy 3: Underline key words:

Before your child even begins to underline keywords they have to be aware of what keywords indicate. For example, if the phrase less than is used that indicates the operation subtraction.

Here are list keywords per operation: (A veteran teacher once shared the following with me)


sum, in all, altogether, together, total, spend/spent

combined, joined, plus, both, also, and-between 2 numbers, more-before question


difference, left, less, minus,change, profit, off, not-in question, more in question, "er" words, two years-numbers


quotient,separate,equal, half, each-in question, per-in question,every in question,one-in question, apiece-in question, twins(each-before & each-in)


The product, times, twice,each-before question, per- before question, every before question, one before question, apiece before question, cousins (each-before & any add code word

Special Situations:

add =subtract code words in same problem = subtract.

Strategy 4: Draw a picture to illustrate what is being read, it helps.

Example: if you need to round, draw a hill put a 5 on top of the hill, put the 10 before it on the bottom left of the hill and the ten after it on the bottom right of the hill. If your child wanted to be sure that they rounded let's say 24 to the nearest ten, they could put 25 on top of the hill 20 before it and 30 after it. Because 24 would be between 20 and 25 the nearest ten would be 20.

Strategy 5: Use a number line

Remember that numbers go in order from least to greatest starting from the left. You can use a number line for whole numbers, decimals, and fractions.

Ordering Decimals on a number line lesson

Strategy 6: Break apart by place value

563 + 789= 500+60+3+700+80+9=1200+140+12=1352

If your kid understands place value they can use this knowledge to help them solve

Strategy 7: Make a little song to help remember steps

Sometimes chanting a fact or a rule can help a student take the right steps when solving.

Strategy 8: Solve two ways to check your work

1) Draw a picture and use an operation

Strategy 9: Cross out extra information that might cause you to solve incorrectly

Strategy 10: Use all your working space and formulas if they apply.

Watch and Subscribe as teacher models Division problem solving


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    • verdict profile image

      George Dimitriadis 

      9 months ago from Templestowe

      I agree that understanding/interpreting a problem is at least half the problem. As a practising teacher of mathematics, I find that students are severely restricted in their ability to investigate worded questions if their knowledge of key words (factorise, simplify ,..) and phrases (highest common factor, solve algebraically,...) is not strong.

      I always try to include a strong English comprehension component, where important terms are emphasised.


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