Strategies for Introducing Word Problems

It’s a couple of months into your school year and you’ve probably made your way into teaching math word problems by now. Once the foundation for computational skills has been laid, it’s time to add some words and context to the mix. There’s rarely a real-life scenario where we are asked to compute numbers without any context surrounding them. That is what makes teaching word problems so important in the classroom.

As teachers, we know this. We know the why’s and the how’s behind skills that are being taught. This doesn’t necessarily hold true from a student’s perspective. A lot of times students think that literacy skills have no business in the math classroom. Students begin to realize that when context and comprehension are involved in math, the skill gets a touch tougher. However, we can combat the uncertainty and challenge by using specific skills or strategies when trying to decipher a word problem.  So when word problems become a bit tricky for students to solve, what are some ways we can teach them to help them become successful?

Introduce the Problem-Solving Process

As adults, when we are presented with a word problem, we automatically go through a problem-solving process in our brains. If students are explicitly taught this process early on, they will learn to internalize the steps to solve a problem on their own. Muscle memory, if you will. An easy way to introduce students to the problem-solving process is by music. Here is a snippet of my song to teach students the steps of the problem-solving process.

Allow Students to Choose Their Own Method of Solving

While working your way through the problem-solving process, give students options on how to solve the problem. Students can choose to use manipulatives, drawings , or equations to solve. Keep manipulatives readily available in case students choose that as their method to solve. Note: sometimes this is dependent on where your students are in the learning progression.

Example of student using a model drawing to solve a word problem.
Using a model drawing and labeling the answer are key strategies in understanding word problems.

Expose Students to the Types of Story Problems

While students aren’t expected to memorize the different types of story problems, introducing them to each type can certainly help with their comprehension of the problem that they are solving. A mini-book is great for this! It breaks down each type of story problem and it’s something students can keep in a journal or a folder for reference later on.

Example of student viewing the different types of story problems.
A poster with the different types of story problems help students comprehend the story problem as they work through their mini-book.


Since word problems can be challenging to decipher when first introduced, allow students a chance to brainstorm together to solve before releasing them independently. A great activity for this is poster problems. Put students in groups of 4-5. Give them a poster with a word problem on it and ask them to use the problem-solving process to solve.

Students work in groups to discuss and solve word problems with the problem-solving process.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Ok, I have to say it one more time: repetition! This one is so very important. Story problems can be embedded into every skill. With continued practice, this gives students an opportunity to become fluent with the problem-solving process. You can sneak word problems into a problem of the day or center work. For plenty of word problems and practice, you can find my word problem pack below.

Addition and Subtraction word problems within 20 strategies, mini-books, and more.

The word problems within 20 pack includes strategies, mini-books, posters, music and more in my TPT or the Magicore Shop! This resources aligns to CCSS standards 1.OA.A.1, 1.OA.A.2 and FL BEST standard MA.1.AR.1.2.

To see more of my math resources, check out my 1st Grade Curriculum Growing Math Bundle!

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