How to Solve Multi-Step Word Problems

face book top problem solving

After many years of teaching I have put together a “tool box” of tips and tricks to help students really understand and solve word problems, even the all complicated multi-step problems. Today I would like to share some of those tips!  Whether you are a teacher, home school parent, or a parent helping your child with homework, these tips should help!~Teach Visualization!  Regularly practice this with your students! Tell your students to think of math problems like a story they would read in a book.  Read one sentence at a time and ask your students to picture the story one sentence at a time in their mind.  Tell them to focus on what the actions are and ignore the numbers!  Ask who the story is about and what they are doing first, next, last…

~Analyze the Question!  This is OH SO IMPORTANT!   I have to hum and drum and go on and on to get some kids to understand why this matters, but if you don’t understand the question part of the problem, how do you know that you are doing the “right math?”  For example, if the question asks how many candies the kids ate and your math finds the number of candies left, you have done “good math”, but have not answered the question, so … That was a lot of work and good math to get the wrong answer!  So, I repeatedly tell my students to really analyze the question… ie: find out what is being asked before they look at numbers and start any computation.  One of my favorite activities for getting this point across is to give my students 2 or 3  word problems with the same story, but different questions.  (FREEBIE ALERT!)This gives us a chance to talk about how important the question is.

same story .png

~Teach students to look for multi – steps!  I tell my students to ask themselves “Who does what?  And what happens next? Anything else?” and I also tell them that when they think they have the right answer to re-read the problem and compare the steps to their solution to the problem.   This helps them to keep from making that all so common mistake of doing the first step and moving on.

~Draw Pictures, Make Diagrams, Take Notes!  Teach your students to draw pictures of each sentence to help them understand the problem.  Making diagrams and notes can also be helpful!  Teach your students multiple strategies so they choose what works best for them!

word problem strategies

~Act Problems Out!  Use play money, color tiles, counters, etc. to act problems out. If the numbers in the story are big numbers have the students substitute smaller numbers and use objects to act out the actions in the story problem. Once they have actions figured out, the can go back and use the real numbers from the problem.


~Check Back! Check Back!  Oh, my oh my! Most  kids don’t want to do this, but it is so important!  Teach your students to re-read the problem and check to make sure they did all the required work and have the right answer!

~And of Course, LOTS OF PRACTICE!  Solving word problems, especially multi-step word problems will require a lot of practice!  Give students chances to practice using warm-ups, group work, stations, homework, and connecting real word problems in different contexts with each new math topic! Need practice problems?  Check mine out below. One is even a FREEBIE!




8 thoughts on “How to Solve Multi-Step Word Problems

  1. Pingback: Weekly Math Freebie Round Up

  2. Pingback: Understanding Multiplication and Division in Word Problems |

  3. I always teach my 6th graders that word problems need to be answered with words. I have them highlight the question part of the problem and write a fill in the blank sentence to answer it BEFORE they even start thinking about what math to do to solve it. Then to check that the solution they got makes sense with the sentence they have already written. Otherwise, they try to write a sentence that makes their number make sense even if it doesn’t answer the question that is asked.

    I like the idea of the same problem set up but different questions for each one. I’ll certainly be trying that this year.


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