Word problems allow students the opportunity to apply their math skills in authentic situations. All too often, children are able to do numeric problems but when given the word problem, they often aren't sure what to do. Some of the best problems to do are those where the unknown in either at the beginning or at the middle of the problem. For instance: Instead of "I have a 29 balloons and the wind blew 8 of them away, how many do I have left?" Instead, ask it this way: "I had quite a few balloons but the wind blew 8 of them away and now I only have 21 balloons left, how many did I start with?" OR, "I had 29 balloons and the wind blew a few away and now I only have 21, how many balloons did the wind blow away?"
As teachers and as parents, we are often very good at creating or using word problems where the unknown value is at the end of the question. Try changing the position of the unknown to create critical thinkers with our math students/children.
The other types of problems that are great to provide young learners with are two step problems. All too often, the child will only answer part of the problem. Children need to be exposed to 2 and 3 part problems which help them improve their over all math scores. Examples of 2 and 3 part math problems are:
1. Each case of oranges has 12 rows of 12 oranges. The school principal wants to buy enough oranges to make sure that every student gets an orange. There are 524 students in the school. How many cases does the principal have to buy?
2. My mother wants to plant tulips in her flower garden. She has enough room to plant 24 tulips. The tulips come in bunches of 5 for $7.00 a bunch, or she can buy them for $1.50 each. She wants to spend the least ammount of money. What should she do and why?
3. The 421 students at Eagle School are going on a trip to the zoo. There are two types of buses, one bus holds 72 students and the other bus hold 58 students. There are also 20 teachers going on the bus to supervise the students. What type of bus and how many buses are needed to make sure that all 421 students are able to go swimming?
Students will often need to re-read the question to make sure they have all of the information they need. They should also be encouraged to read the question again to make sure that they have actually answered what is being asked for.