There are many ways to teach problem solving to elementary students. Most students are successful with a well structured problem solving plan. However, we all have at least a few students who just don’t “get it” with regular classroom lessons. Working one on one or in small groups and applying well planned interventions helps these students find success.
My favorite “Go To” intervention strategies are:
Often students read the problem and pick a method to solve without really addressing the question asked. I like to point out to my students which part of a problem is the question and which part is the “story” or “clues”. This helps students to see what part of the problem is telling and which part is asking. I like to use this analogy with my students: “I asked Shelley what color the sky is. She told me the grass is green. Did she lie? No, but did she answer my question? NO” and then relate this to word problems. If you use the clues, but you don’t answer the question, you haven’t solved the problem. One way to make this successful is to give your students a problem without the question, then have the students brainstorm as many different questions they can think of for clues.
Another way to help with this is to give your students 3 problems that share the same clues, but have different questions. This is a good way to show students that they need to analyze the question before they make up their mind about what steps to take. (Click the photo above for a FREE set of analyzing the question word problems).
This helps some students to understand the question better. Look at the example below. After reading the story problem, ask the students to rewrite the question as a sentence with a blank for the answer. Do this before discussing and strategies for solving the problem. The process of rewriting the question as a statement helps students to focus on what is being asked. After solving the problem, have your students place their answer in the blank and read the statement with the number in the blank. Teach them to ask themselves if their answer makes sense in the statement.
Most word problems follow a standard format with clues first and question last. Some students have trouble filtering the question out of the story. Students that have this problem can benefit from working from the bottom up. Teach them to read the question first (usually at the end) and then read the whole problem to gather clues. I usually save this strategy for students who really need that extra something after trying other interventions. It does not work for everyone, but for some it is the “magic trick” to help them organize the problem. Also, they usually need to do this until they get better at other strategies.
Want more ideas for interventions?
Seriously, how did it go so fast? Here we are almost to the end of the year, enjoying the Spring weather and looking forward to lazy days of Summer … BUT … we have to get through end of year testing first!
Here are a few tips to make test prep successful:
Tip 1: Prioritize areas of need – I don’t know where you are, but here in Texas we have SO MUCH to teach in a school year! When it comes time to review and get ready for testing it can be overwhelming trying to review it all! So take some time to sit down and reflect on what skills your students need to review the most. It is often different every year with each group of students. Spend extra time on the skills your students need the most.
Tip 2: Use student strengths to build confidence. So after you reflect on which key objectives and skills you need to review the most, spend some time reflecting on what your students are really good at! Review these skills (less than priority skills, but still review) to keep them fresh in your student’s minds and also to build confidence! If the students can see what they are good at, they will not be as stressed about what they still need to practice. I like to encourage my students by pointing out skills they found difficult at the beginning of the year and have now mastered! I say things like “Wow! Remember how hard ___ was at the beginning of the year and look how great you are with it now!” or “You have learned so much! You are so ready to ACE this on your test!.”
Tip 3: Make it fun! Realistically you can’t make every second of every day fun, but do what you can when you can. When students are having fun they are more engaged in learning! Play games, set up scavenger hunts, play music or decorate your classroom like the circus! Anything to keep your class from feeling so bogged down by the stress of “The Test”.
Tip 4: Smile! This might not sound like a test taking tip, but trust me on this one! When your students see you all super stressed out, they feel it! Smiling will help everyone relax! Maybe some yoga? Or a funny cat video on YouTube?
Tip 5: Add movement! Take some breaks to move around! If kids are in their seats too long they get sleepy and bored! Play multiplication games with a beach ball, take a walk around your hallway, do jumping jacks … have a 3 minute “dance party” as a break between lessons. You could even use a Math Song to dance to! I love this Eight Times Tables Song!
So, the fun and games of learning how to make arrays, skip counting on number lines and using models to solve multiplication problems has lead to the equally exciting task of solving division problems. Everyone seems to be making great progress and making meaning of multiplication and division in real world problems, UNTIL … wait for it … wait for it … We mix the two together!
And here the real “fun” begins … A few students usually have an intuition about the structure of the problems and just “get it” with out much help, but the majority of students need direct, systematic instruction paired with hands on or pictorial examples to really, truly, deeply, understand the difference between multiplication and division in word problems. But where can we start? Continue reading