Math word problems.  Three words that can evoke trembling and fear in the hearts of many.  As an intervention specialist working with fifth grade students with special needs, I understand the frustration.  My kiddos struggle with general reading comprehension in addition to math reasoning and basic math facts.  Story problems are one of the most difficult aspects of keeping up with grade level math.  They aren’t the only ones struggling with story problems, though.

This year, I am lucky enough to be co-teaching math twice a week to the entire fifth grade at my elementary building.  (You can read more about that here.)  The general education teacher and I have had many discussions on how best to proceed with our group of kids.  The majority of them struggle greatly with math and have not mastered third grade concepts.  We decided that instead of both of us hitting the same topic when I’m co-teaching with her, I would focus primarily on problem solving skills.  This is where Laura Candler’s Daily Math Puzzlers come in.

The systematic, sequential program begins by teaching kids four steps of problem solving: Read, Think, Solve, and Check.  I followed the directions included on how to introduce the steps and it was quite easy.  Of course, I had to add my own little twist to it.  I always do.  I had my students act out each step.  They held their hands out like they were holding a book for “Read”, a finger to the head was “Think”, pretend writing on their hand was “Solve”, and drawing a gigantic checkmark in the air was “Check”.  They were all able to memorize the steps quite quickly…and had fun doing it!

Acting Out Problem Solving Steps

After the kids had the steps down, we progressed to learning the different strategies for solving word problems.  The first one was Drawing Pictures, which they were all familiar with.  Each strategy includes directions and sample problems to solve.  Their favorite strategy so far is Guess and Check.  They really got into that one!  🙂

In addition to practice problems, Laura included activities, a parent letter, motivational techniques, and games in the kit.  It really has a lot to work with.

Now, because most of my fifth graders are working significantly below grade level in math, I chose to use Level B (did I forget to mention that there are different levels available???).  My philosophy is to teach them where they are and to take them as far as you can.


I would love to hear your tips on working with kids who struggle with math word problems.  Leave your ideas or favorite tips in the comments!  Joy of Teaching



5 thoughts on “Help with Math Word Problems”
  1. Hi, Joy,

    Another option for you could be The website has matth word problems at different skill levels from Pre-K through 10th grade (when it’s a Geometry question). You can join their email list for free too, so that you have a new problem daily. Since I teach high school math classes, I use “The sky is the limit” level when it is offered (about every other day). You could start with these problems daily at the level of your students, and then start to extend their knowledge to the next level.

    Kind regards,


  2. You might try using different numbers in your word problems for the different ability levels in yout class.Example …

    Billy has 7, 15, 25 toy cars. Jose as 13, 21, 32 toy cars. How many more cars does Jose have than Billy?

    That way your students have a choice on what numbers they work with or you can ask them all to work on the middle numbers. ..if someone struggles, you can suggest they try the lower numbers or challenge your better students to do more difficult ones.

  3. I read the entire post waiting to find out why you put blue paper plates on their faces. I was so intrigued!
    When I finally figured out that you the BIRTHDAY party story and get blue plates to use as blinder masks. sooo funny!

    Thanks for you insightful idea. I gleened info I wasn’t expecting to.

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