Word problems used to be the bane of my existence as a new teacher. Thankfully, I learned new strategies and resources to help me implement and teach word problem strategies all year. To be honest, teaching word problems all year was the ONE thing that I did that had the greatest impact (if you are interested in more information about word problems and how I teach them, see the links at the bottom of this article). On this post, I will share one of those word problem strategies that involves helping students think through and analyze word problems using graphic organizers or word problem mats.
Teaching Word Problem Strategies with Word Problem Organizers
These word problem graphic organizers/mats help walk students through the thinking and analyzing process that is automatic for us. Through this analysis, the students have a better chance of comprehending the word problem, choosing the correct operation to solve it, and determining if their answers make sense.
In the same manner that we teach students to comprehend texts, we should also teach them how to breakdown and analyze a word problem. Using graphic organizers/mats helps break the process down into manageable steps for the students.
The free download (available a few sections down) has several different versions to allow you to choose which works best for your students and their needs. Having the different versions will also allow you to differentiate the organizers.
My go to version to begin with has the students following these steps:
- What operation are you planning to use? Write or underline the evidence from the problem that supports that operation.
- Solve the problem and show your math work.
- Write the answer in a complete sentence.
And here is an example from one of the more advanced organizers with more steps:
- Retell the problem in your own words.
- What operation are you thinking will solve this problem? Why?
- Solve the problem and show your math work.
- Write the answer to the problem in a complete sentence.
- Prove your answer is correct.
Using the Word Problem Organizers
You have a ton of variety in how you choose to use these organizers, however I definitely recommend following this sequence:
- Introduce the organizer/mat by going over the steps and how they help the student comprehend the word problem and/or organize their work. Understanding the purpose behind the organizer is huge with students because you don’t want them to view it as busy work.
- Model how to complete the organizer/mat whole group with at least one word problem (and more if the students need it and depending on the complexity of the organizer you choose).
- Allow the students to work in pairs or triads to complete the organizer as a form of guided practice before they are required to do so independently.
The graphic organizers/mats can also be used as a guide for students when discussing the word problem with partners. They don’t always have to fill in each part of it, but instead they can discuss some of the parts. This will give the same benefits in less time.
Also, placing the word problem organizers/mats in page protectors and letting the students use expo markers instantly makes it more engaging.
Here are some ways you can use these word problem mats to help your students practice analyzing word problems:
- Math centers
- Small group teaching
- Independent work
- Homework – send home a page protector and expo marker and let the students use the mats at home or they can use a the mats as a guide as they work through word problems. These organizers will also help parents support students if they struggle with a word problem.
Should the students use the mat with every word problem they solve?
They certainly can (especially if you use dry erase markers and/or have them discuss some of the parts instead of recording it all) but they don’t have to. Using the organizers will help them work through complex problems but will take more time. When I use these in math centers, I only require one word problem to be worked on fully on the more advanced organizers. However this depends on the mat you choose. Some of them are more simple and don’t require any extra work- the mat simply organizes the work they would already do.
Download the Word Problem Strategies Mats
Click here or on the image to download the Word Problem Mats. Remember there are several versions so you can choose the ones that work best for your grade level and your students’ needs.
Need More Word Problem Strategies and Resources?
Check out these helpful resources, blog posts, and freebies for even more help teaching word problems.
The task card word problems shown in the images are part of my task card collections for 3rd-5th grade math. Click on the links below if you wish to see these resources in your grade level.