Adding Three Numbers up to 20 in a Word Problem

I love teaching adding 3 numbers in word problems. Yes, you may be furrowing your brows right now. I know word problems have somewhat of a stigma of making students and teachers cringe and for good reason. They can be challenging on both ends. The beauty of adding 3 numbers in a word problem is that most of the leg work has already been done.  Strategies for solving a word problem have been taught previously with two numbers in addition and subtraction.

While you still want to use and focus on word problem strategies, think of this as an opportunity to provide extensions using more numbers. Oh, and when adding 3 or more numbers, it’s only in addition problems. I know, I know. I can hear you cheering from here! Let me share some of my favorite ideas and activities to teach these not-so-cringe-worthy word problems.

Review the Problem-Solving Process

First and foremost, review the steps for solving a word problem with two numbers. I think reviewing the problem-solving process and refreshing their brains with strategies on how to decipher a word problem is a great starting point. It makes students feel successful to know how to attack the problem from the beginning. I like to use a mini-book with the steps included so students can refer back if they get stuck somewhere in the problem-solving process.

Students can use mini-book to help review the problem-solving process for adding three numbers in a word problem.
Mini-books are a great practice and reference tool for students when teaching a skill. Use whole group or in a station!

Use Scaffolds but Start to Release Them

Reviewing the problem-solving process isn’t just a one and done. Ease your way back into word problems by keeping scaffolds in place for the beginning of the unit. Not only is the mini-book great to have for reference and scaffolding… when you combine it with the consistent practice of the checklists…Viola! It will help students internalize the steps to solve.  Below is an example of how I have students independently solve word problems using a check-list scaffold before we move on.

Using a check-list for adding three numbers in a word problem helps students internalize them on their own.
Having the steps included on independent work helps students begin to memorize them on their own.

Practice, Practice, Practice

After students have had practice with scaffolds, I like to begin giving students word problems without checklists. There’s the gradual release from the scaffolds that I mentioned above. Students have now discovered that solving word problems with 3 addends aren’t much different than solving word problems with 2 addends. They can still use the same key words and strategies as before. This is usually the part (my favorite part!) where students’ confidence grows. They have the process down-pat and are ready to solve them all on their own. What is that? Do I hear you cheering again?

Have Students Create Their Own Three Number Word Problem

Ok, this may be my favorite activity in the history of word problems. I LOVE having students create their own word problems. The activity below is an all-time favorite of mine.

Students create their own word problem using three numbers.
Students can create a well-structured word problem on their own.

Students use a checklist and variety of pictures and numbers to help create their very own word problem. This gives students a starting point to help structure their word problem correctly. When students have finished their word problem, you can use them for other students to solve! It makes a great carousel, scoot, or center activity and students love that their work is getting used for others to solve!

For other ideas and strategies to solve word problems, check out my Introducing Word Problems to 20 blog here.

You can find all of these activities and more in my Word Problems with 3 Numbers packet in my TPT or Magicore Shop! This packet aligns to standards CCSS 1.OA.A.2 and Florida B.E.S.T MA.1.AR.1.1 . Happy Teaching!

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