Word problems can be overwhelming for students and honestly for teachers, too. Teaching students how to use strategies and confidently work through word problems can be tough. This post will share a list of questions and prompts you can use as you support your students before and after they solve word problems. This will help you guide the students through solving the problem (without doing the work for them) and hopefully help them internalize this process.
Why Word Problems Are Difficult for Students
Word problems can be difficult for students for a variety of reasons.
- Students need to be able to read the problem and understand what is being asked. This can be difficult for students who are struggling with reading comprehension.
- Students need to be able to pull out the important information from the problem and figure out what operation to use.
- Students need to be able to make sure that their answer makes sense (which requires an understanding of the context).
- In lower grades, students may have relied heavily on keywords and these often don’t work anymore in 4th and 5th grade. To see how I teach students to understand and solve word problems without relying on key words, click here.
- Students may not have been exposed to all of the word problem types for the four operations. For example, click here to see two types of word problems for multiplying fractions and whole numbers.
Helping Students with Word Problems: Questions and Prompts to Use
One way you can help your students is by asking them questions as they are solving word problems. This can be done in whole group, small group, or even 1:1.
Just like we support students with reading comprehension, we can (and should) also support them with questioning strategies while they are solving word problems.
Here is a list of questions to use to prompt your students and help them understand the word problems they are solving.
Before Solving Word Problems Questions and Prompts
Use these when students are stuck and don’t know how to start.
- What is happening in the problem?
- What is the problem telling you? What is the problem asking you?
- What are the important numbers?
- What does this problem make you think of?
- Who and what is the problem about?
- Can you retell the problem in your own words?
- How can you use a model to show the problem?
- What operation does this situation make you think of?
- How can you show the word problem in an equation?
- What information do you need to find the answer?
- What is your first step? What is your next step?
After Solving Word Problems Questions and Prompts
- How did you find your answer?
- How do you know your answer is correct?
- Does your answer match the question that is being asked?
- Does your answer make sense? How do you know?
- Did you fully answer the question? Is there more than one question?
- How would you prove that your answer is correct?
- What steps did you take to get your answer?
- How can you make sure your answer is clear and complete?
- Can you solve this problem another way? Do you get the same answer?
Grab a Free Printable of the Math Questions and Prompts Here
To download the questions and prompts to help students with word problems in a PDF printable format, click here or on the image below.
This is a great resource to place in your guided math binder to help with small group instruction. Click here to grab more free forms and printables to set up your guided math binder.
More Tips for Teaching Word Problems
1. Introduce all new math concepts with simple and relatable word problem contexts.
2. Provide regular exposure to word problems. One way to do this is through a Word Problem of the Day routine. Grab a free starter kit for word problems of the day here.
3. Connect problems to students’ lives and experiences.
4. Provide opportunities for regular discussion and sharing. These questions and prompts are a great way to have regular discussion around word problems.
5. Model your thinking when reading and solving word problems during instruction.
6. Provide students with a step-by-step way to work through understanding and solving a word problem.
7. Get hands-on. Use hands-on sorts and interactive digital activities. Grab a free set intervention math word problems that include digital versions and hands-on sorts by clicking here.
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