We know that word problems are often a struggle for students. My first year in the classroom, when my students sat down to do the complex, open-ended part of our state assessment in February, I had a gut-wrenching feeling that I hadn’t prepared them. We did some word problems within each of our units. But, those word problems weren’t very complex. And, students always knew exactly what to expect because it was exactly what we were practicing. On that day, I realized it wasn’t enough and I made changes immediately. As in, we started a new routine the next week. I began using a word problem of the day and haven’t looked back. Every single year since, no matter what grade I’m teaching, we do a daily word problem. It’s made a huge difference for my students.
Spiral Review with Word Problem of the Day
One of my biggest motivations for doing a word problem of the day is that it gives students a spiral review of the standards. When students are only working on a specific skill in word problems at a specific time, i.e. during each unit of study, they know what skill to look for. It takes some of the analyzation out of it. Students don’t have to truly make sense of the problem. By moving through various problems at different times, students truly don’t know what to expect. Their focus turns to what the problem is asking and they have to use the information presented to develop a plan for solving. This unexpected practice is critical for building strong problem solvers.
Spiraling the standards also gives students ongoing exposure and practice with each standard. This helps them connect that practice to what they already know and help build the synapses needed for long-term memory. Repeated, ongoing practice is key for many students to truly master something and have it become part of their long term memory. I also like when new skills are presented in this way, though it’s not intentional. Students get an opportunity to try applying what they already know using their problem solving skills to tackle something new. It’s fascinating, and reinforcing, to see students successful with new, not formally presented skills. Our focus is then on their thinking and strategy use.
Rigorous Test Prep
As I mentioned, it was upon seeing my students working on the state test that I realized our previous word problem work was not rigorous enough. Students are expected to solve complex word problems using several standards and skills at one time. The state assessment gives several multi-step word problems plus the in-depth performance task that asks students to apply what they know. They need repeated practice with complex multi-step word problems with various contexts. While my daily practice is not to the level of the performance task, it does give students opportunities to use different strategies to solve. It gives them practice making sense of complex problems. Our word problem of the day routine gives students the time to talk about math and their choices in solving problems.
Another huge motivation for our daily problem solving routine is our math talk. During our word problem routine we focus on making sense of the problem, using models, writing equations, and ensuring we’re answering the question that is asked. I scaffold students through the work, focusing on my expectations and our problem solving steps. After that, it doesn’t look the same every day. Because the problem content spirals, our routine changes. Sometimes, we work through the problem together immediately. Most often, though, students complete it on their own. Afterwards, they share their thinking. Sometimes, it’s with a partner. At other times, it’s with a small group. We always bring it back together whole group to talk about the equations identified and strategies used to solve. I also use this time to address any misconceptions and common mistakes. Making sense of the problem and using successful models and equations are the most important components of our daily problem solving routine.
Through our daily word problems, we spend a lot of time talking about the problem and students’ thinking. I explicitly teach and reinforce sentence stems that help guide students’ conversations with each other and for explaining their thinking. Justifying their answers and critiquing the work of others is complex work. Repeated daily practice and scaffolding gives all students an opportunity to engage in these conversations.
My Math Talk Posters are perfect for a classroom bulletin board display. You can get these 17 math talk sentence stems posters for free, in both colored and black and white versions, by filling out the chart below.
Word Problem of the Day
I have year-long bundles of word problems for 1st through 3rd grades. I’ve used these story problems every day year after year as part of our daily problem solving routine. With 30 problems in each set, there’s an abundance of opportunities to practice. Some days we’re able to complete 2 or 3 problems. Most days, we complete just one. We spend 10-15 minutes on each complex problem since our focus is on so much more than just the answer. It’s important that our daily problem is complex and rigorous so that the focus is on making sense of the problem and students’ thinking around their models and strategies.
1st Grade Word Problems of the Day
Building successful problem solvers means intentional problem solving practice with even our youngest learners. My 1st Grade Word Problem of the Day sets start working at the most basic levels. Students focus on making sense of the problems, writing an equation, and using a given picture to help them solve for the unknown. Throughout their practice students work with a variety of word problems including part-part-whole and start-change-end problem types. They give ongoing practice with the range of addition and subtraction word problem types. Students complete bar models, part-part-whole tables, start-change-end tables, tens frames, and use models to help them make sense of addition and subtraction. You can take a closer look at my 1st Grade Story Problem set and download the free set perfect for the beginning of the year by clicking the images below.
2nd Grade Word Problems of the Day
The 2nd grade Story Problems pick up where 1st grade left off. Students focus on addition and subtraction within 20, addition with regrouping, and subtraction without regrouping. As the months go on students begin to work with coin values, measurement lengths, adding 3 numbers, and multi-step problems with addition and subtraction. The 2nd grade word problems really bridge the gap between basic foundational understandings of the operations with the complex multi-step word problems that students will face in 3rd. You can take a closer look at my 2nd Grade Story Problem set and download the free back to school version by clicking the images below.
3rd Grade Word Problems of the Day
The 3rd grade word problems are designed to give students much needed practice with the rigorous problems seen on state tests. Students will experience word problems with a variety of standards including measurement, fractions, and computational skills. Students are often tasked with explaining their thinking or identifying unnecessary information presented in the context. Try out my 3rd Grade Story Problems with the free back to school set by clicking on the image below.
Our Word Problem of the Day, spiral review, and Number of the Day are absolute must supplements to our math block. Our daily problem solving practice gives students ongoing, rigorous practice with the standards and is a much-needed spiral review of the standards. You can read more about the specific steps in our daily routine in my 3 Reads Strategy post.