Tips for Solving Word Problems


Is your child having difficulty solving word problems? Here’s a simple word problem. Sally has 7 cups of flour. The cake recipe calls for 1 and 3/4 cups of flour. She wants to make as many cakes as possible. How many cakes can she make? Would your child have difficulty solving this word problem?

If you are looking for tips for solving word problems OR your child is still early on in his math career, and you want tips for word problem solving, keep reading!

tips to help kids with solving word problems

Emphasize Important Words When Teaching Concepts

When teaching a concept to your child, try to emphasize important words such as the words sum, product, less than, and greater than. For example, when teaching your child how to add you can emphasize the word sum. So, when adding the numbers 3 and 2, tell your child that “adding the numbers 3 and 2” is the SAME as “finding the sum of 3 and 2”. Do this over and over until your child can fill in the blank for the word SUM.  Other times, you can emphasize to the child that adding 3 and 2 is the same as finding 2 MORE THAN 3 (or finding 3 MORE THAN 2.)  The child needs to realize that there is more than one way to say that we want to add two numbers. Similarly there is more than one way to say we want to subtract two numbers.  When writing out the equation 3+2 = 5, emphasize that we say the word “is” right before we say “equal to.”  In word problems, they will need to realize that the word “is” means “equal to.”

Start Simple

Before giving your child word problems to solve, you can begin by giving her a single phrase or sentence that she has to translate into math.  For example, you can give her the phrase “Three less than seven is four” and ask her to change that into math.  She should write “7-3=4.”  A major component of solving word problems is being able to translate words into math so try to develop this skill in your child at an early age before giving them long word problems to solve.

Take Notes On Important Details

Encourage your child to jot down important information from the word problem before trying to solve it. For example, in the earlier  word problem given  “Sally has 7 cups of flour. The cake recipe calls for 1 and 3/4 cups of flour. She wants to make as many cakes as possible. How many cakes can she make?” the child can write down ” total flour: 7 cups,” ”flour for 1 cake: 1 3/4 cups.” Writing down notes, may help her organize her thoughts.

Make Sure The Question is Being Answered

One of the last things your child should do is to make sure that he is actually answering the QUESTION asked.  Sometimes a child gives an answer, BUT he did NOT answer the question asked.  He has answered a different question.

Use Simple Numbers

If your child is having difficulty, encourage them to use “simpler” numbers to solve the problem first, and then go back and resolve the problem using the “harder” numbers.  Sometimes a person is thrown off by the “complexity” of the numbers instead of the complexity of the problem.  For example, in the word problem, what if we had used the numbers 8 and 2 instead of 7 and 1 3/4 so that the problem read “Sally has 8 cups of flour. The cake recipe calls for 2 cups of flour. She wants to make as many cakes as possible. How many cakes can she make?”  It may click faster with the child that he needs to divide to solve the problem using these “nice” numbers. This can help the child realize here that division needs to be used.

Make Sure They Have a Solid Foundation

It may seem obvious, but I think it’s worth mentioning to make sure that your child has a solid math foundation if you want her to be able to solve word problems.  That includes things such as knowing their addition and multiplication facts by heart.  Knowing how to work with fractions, decimals, percents (if they are are that level).  It makes it more difficult to solve a word problem that involves fraction if the child has problems working with fractions.

What types of foundational concepts does your child need help with?  Drop a comment below and let me know or email me at   🙂

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