Division can be one of the trickiest skills to teach. Part of the reason is that by the time students get to 4th & 5th grade, they’re dealing with much larger numbers that are more difficult to visualize. 5th graders are working with 4-5-digit numbers 2-digit divisors (not to mention decimal division but that’s for another blog post). If students don’t have a strong understanding of what division is, division word problems can be extremely intimidating (for the students AND the teacher). This post will share tips for teaching division word problems that help students understand division and be more confident when solving word problems involving division.
Tip #1 – Review basic division (and in a conceptual way)
The first tip I have is to take it all the way back to the basics. Go back and review what division is conceptually. Review the two types of equal group division problems AND model how to use models and drawings to find the answers.
In fact, this is one of the first lessons I teach in math: reviewing basic multiplication and division and the difference between the two. You would be surprised (or maybe not :P) by how many students don’t have a conceptual understanding of division (or multiplication).
Building that foundation of division conceptually will help the students better understand and have more success with difficult grade level division word problems. Taking that extra time upfront to review 3rd grade skills really pays off.
Tip #2 – Use real-world examples and contexts.
My second tip is to make it applicable to students by using real world examples. Discuss and use word problems involving things like pizza, candy, dividing students/people.
It is does get more difficult when you’re dealing with larger numbers in 4th & 5th grade to make those real world but try as best you can to keep it real world by using concepts and contexts that are engaging and relevant to your students.
Some more go-to context that I always like to pull from are:
- organizing and dividing school supplies
- organizing and dividing books on shelves
- dividing people into teams or groups
- forming groups of items of interest to students: stickers, baseball cards, video game collectibles.
- forming sports teams or any teams that students show an interest in
Candy division word problems available for download near the end of the post in the section titled: Download the Free Division Word Problem Activities Here.
Tip: #3: Explicitly Teach and Expose Students to Different Types of Division Problems
Explicitly teach and model how to solve different types of division word problems.
I have found that a lot of times students only really know the type of division that involves splitting into groups and determining out how many goes in each group. When they are presented with a problem where they know how many goes in each group, but they don’t know how many groups there are, it’s not as well-known to them and they may struggle.
To help students, I explicitly teach the two grouping types of division problems. (Then explicitly teach division as comparison and division rate problems later on.)
- Group Size Unknown
- We know how many groups we have, but we don’t know the size of each group (how many objects or people belong in each group). This is the one most students are most familiar with.
- An example of this type of word problem: Jorge has 20 pieces of candy. He wants to put them in 4 bags. If he puts an equal amount in each bag, how many pieces of candy will go in each?
- In this example, the bags are the groups. We know we have 4 bags. We are looking for how many go in each group or how many pieces of candy will go in each bag.
- Number of Groups Unknown
- We know the group size, but we don’t know how many groups we will be able to make.
- An example of this type of word problem: Jorge has 20 pieces of candy. He wants to divide them into bags with 4 pieces of candy in each bag. How many bags will he be able to make?
- In this example, we know how much candy he plans to put in each bag or group. We need to know how many bags he will be able to make. We are looking for the number of groups.
Division posters available for download near the end of the post in the section titled: Download the Free Division Word Problem Activities Here.
Tip # 4 – Give all problems and naked equations a context.
When you are solving or modeling division equations with students that are not word problems, give the numbers a simple context.
For example, one thing that I like to always do when I am doing my first modeling lesson for 4-digit divided by 2-digit is to use cupcakes as the context. When I’m discussing the numbers and what I’m doing to solve the equation, I use cupcakes as a context. For example: taking 2,448 cupcakes and dividing them into packs at 24. When I work through the division problem, I am connecting it back to cupcakes the entire time. Click here to read more about my first lesson with partial quotients division where I use cupcakes as a context.
This helps students conceptually understand division and connects the operation back to contexts word problems.
Tip #5 – Make division word problem practice engaging and fun.
Division word problems can get tedious and monotonous quickly. Up the engagement by:
- incorporating movement by having students go around the room to solve division word problems (read more about the Around the Room activity here)
- add in collaboration by having students work with partners or small groups
- let students solve division word problems on whiteboards with expo markers or even on chart paper with smelly markers
- use manipulatives such as candy, donuts, mini-erasers, or stickers
- incorporate hands-on activities such as word problem sorts or spinner activities
Division word problem sort available for download near the end of the post in the section titled: Download the Free Division Word Problem Activities Here.
Tip #6 – Include division word problems (and other word problems) regularly in instruction
Have a routine for ongoing practice with division word problems (and any word problems). This can be:
- a word problem of the day routine. Click here to read more about word problem of the day and grab a free starter pack.
- part of your daily math review.
- one of your math centers or stations.
- as a warm-up for your small group math instruction
Download the Free Division Word Problem Activities Here
To grab all of the division word problem posters and activities shown in this post, click here or on the image below. Digital and printable activities are included!
Here is what is included:
- Posters to help you teach and model the two types of division equal grouping word problems.
- Basic division word problems to conceptually teach and review division using candy (or candy manipulatives)
- Division word problem sort – sorting basic division facts word problems by group size unknown or number of groups unknown
The word problems are basic division facts, making them perfect to begin your division instruction in a non-threatening way that builds a strong understanding of division and division word problems.