Strategy #5: Visual Representation of Word Problems for Clarity
A visual representation, such as a diagram, can be a powerful strategy for solving mathematical word problems (Poch, Garderen, & Scheuermann, 2014). This strategy helps students to see the problem and decide what information is given. Transfer of other strategies occurs during this activity. Initially, they practice this on paper or whiteboards, later they start working out the problem in their minds.
Example. Class, Tim had twelve green toy cars. Let’s represent this visually as twelve small green circles, (teacher draws them on the white board). Tim gave four of them to his friend. Lana, can you tell me how to represent the four that Tim gave to his friend (Lana walks to the white board and strikes four green circles). Next, …
Figure 1. Visual representation of Tim’s word problem
Strategy #6: Providing Feedback through Formative Assessments
Formative assessments are ongoing assessments, observations, summaries and reviews that inform teacher instruction and provide feedback to students on a daily basis (Fisher & Frey, 2007). One of the formative assessments that is inevitable in classrooms is walking around when students work word problems in class. Formative assessments could be using an analogy prompt, asking them if they agree or disagree on a concept involved in the problem, checking the rough work done by students, or reviewing with surprise tests.
Figure 2. Orange pinch card
Example. Class, grab the orange pinch cards on the table in your hands, you will pinch hold “True” if you want to answer with true and “False” if you choose to answer with false. For multiple choice you are going to pinch hold a number between one and four. Who agrees that Jared’s potatoe sale will be greater than Oliver’s ?
Who thinks that Ms. Andrew’s students will get more white roses than Ms. Peter’s squash sales in the weekly school market?
Continue with More Strategies for Exceptional Students
Finally, “to provide worthwhile problem-solving experiences for all students in the classroom, we teachers should pay particular attention to the needs of exceptional students, those with learning difficulties as well as those who are gifted in mathematics” (Thornton &Watters, 2003, p.169). They too need to use all the strategies previously recommended, and you may need to sit beside them, and have them watch videos relating to the word problems. But they, like the rest of your students, will do better with word problems if they consistently use literacy strategies to help with math.
Archer, A. L., & Hughes, C. A. (2011). Exploring the foundations of explicit instruction. Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching, 1-22.
Dale, T. C., & Cuevas, G. J. (1992). Integrating mathematics and language learning. The multicultural classroom: Readings for content-area teachers, 330-348.
Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2007). Implementing a schoolwide literacy framework: Improving achievement in an urban elementary school. The Reading Teacher, 61(1), 32-43.
Gamo, S., Sander, E., & Richard, J. F. (2010). Transfer of strategy use by semantic recoding in arithmetic problem solving. Learning and Instruction, 20(5), 400-410.
Hite, Shayne, "Improving Problem Solving by Improving Reading Skills" (2009). Summative Projects for MA Degree. 9. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/mathmidsummative/9
Jarret, D. (1999). The inclusive classroom: Teaching mathematics and science to English-language learners. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.
Poch, A. L., van Garderen, D., & Scheuermann, A. M. (2015). Students’ understanding of diagrams for solving word problems: A framework for assessing diagram proficiency. Teaching exceptional children, 47(3), 153-162.
Shanahan, T. (2018, May 25). Comprehension Skills or Strategies: Is there a difference and does it matter? Retrieved March 20, 2019, from http://www.readingrockets.org/blogs/shanahan-literacy/comprehension-skills-or-strategies-there-difference-and-does-it-matter
Standards for Mathematical Practice » Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. | Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2019). Retrieved from
Ananthi Sankaranarayanan has been involved in education research for five years. Ananthi holds a Master’s in Education from Texas Tech University and is presently a doctoral candidate at the University of Houston. Ananthi was a mathematics and computer science teacher since 1995 in India and served in
public and private schools. She had participated and presented her research agenda at national and international conferences.
A Classroom Ritual to Conquer Word Problems
Rebekah E. Piper
Laurie A. Sharp, Ed.D.
Roberta D. Raymond, Ed.D.
Mary Jo Fresch