Word problems are one of those terms that can strike fear in the hearts of teachers and students alike. Teachers wonder how to teach word problems focusing on those “keywords” and students struggle to understand those “keywords” and what they mean. It can be a frustrating process for both teacher and student.

Yet, it doesn’t have to be. I was that teacher who taught those “keywords” to look for and hoped that it stuck in the brains of my students. I knew that there had to be a better way. That was when I was introduced to numberless word problems. I am telling you right now, it was a game-changer. My students were able to understand what the word problem was asking, and had a better chance of solving the word problem.

So in today’s post, I am going to share with you how to use numberless word problems to help your students solve problems. They will do this without having to focus on those “keywords”. In just a few steps your students will have a better understanding of how to solve a problem, and not dread trying to solve them.

## What are Word Problems in Math?

A word problem is a few sentences describing a ‘real-life’ scenario where a problem needs to be solved by using math. For example, “Ahmed had 3 pencils. His teacher gave him 4 more. How many pencils does Ahmed have now?”

Word problems are an important part of teaching because students can show their complete understanding of the math skill being taught. Word problems also develop higher-order and critical thinking skills. Students have to be able to look at a word problem and be able to extract the important information and ignore information that isn’t needed. Word problems also allow students to solve a problem in a different way.

## What are Numberless Word Problems in Math?

Numberless word problems are the perfect way to start off by introducing a new concept for students.

For example, “Ahmed had pencils. His teacher gave him more. How many pencils does Ahmed have now?”

By not looking at the numbers, students are able to focus their understanding of the story and extract the important information. Once students have the information that they need, they can determine how to solve the problem. Then They can just plug in the numbers.

## How to Solve a Numberless Story Problem

To solve these problems you just simply need to follow these 5 simple steps. Once you have mastered this, you will find that solving word problems will become easier for students.

For this example, we will use the story problem:

“There were 5 kids in the pool. Four more kids jumped in. How many kids are in the pool now?”

### Make Connection to Word Problems

The first step is to make sure that students have an understanding of all the vocabulary of the word problem. I would start by asking students to give me a thumbs up or down if they knew what a pool was. I would also ask if they had ever been to a pool. This way, I know who can make a connection to the story problem and who needs to add to their schema to solve the problem.

### Present the Word Problem

Once I have determined that students can connect to the story I then show them the problem as follows:

“There were kids in the pool. More kids jumped in.”

I don’t add the numbers or the final question because I want them to focus on what is happening in the story. I first ask students “What is happening in the story so far?” Then I get students to explain to me in their own words what is happening in the story.

After they explain the story, I then ask them “Is this a math problem we can solve yet?” They say no. I then ask why. The students then answer they don’t have enough information, such as how many kids were in the pool or how many jumped in.

### Reveal the First Number in the Word Problem

After revealing the problem without numbers, I then reveal the first number.

“There were 5 kids in the pool. More jumped in.”

Again, I ask students to explain what changed in this story and what new information they have in the story. They tell me in their own words, and again I ask “Do we have enough information to solve the problem?” They explain that they don’t because they don’t know how many kids jumped in the pool.

### Reveal the Second Number in the Word Problem

Next, I reveal the second number.

“There were 5 kids in the pool. Four more kids jumped in the pool.”

From here I ask the students to tell me the story in their own words and share the new information that they have. Then I ask “Do we have enough to solve the problem yet?” Now, this is where you will find varying answers. Some students will say yes and some will say no. The key here is to lead them to the fact that they don’t have enough information to solve the problem. While they do have the numbers, they don’t know what to do with them. So they need to look for a question at the end of the word problem to tell them what they need to do.

### Reveal the Final Question

This is where I reveal the final part of the story problem.

“There were 5 kids in the pool. Four more kids jumped in. How many kids are in the pool now?”

From here I go over the same steps and ask the students to explain what is going on in the story. I then ask the students what the problem wants us to do with these numbers. They should be able to come up with adding the numbers together.

### How Students Solve the Word Problem

Once I have guided the students through the answer I send them back to their seats with a piece of paper with the problem on it. I tell the students that they can solve the problem any way they’d like, but they must show their work. I tell them that writing just the answer would be wrong because part of math is showing your work and how they got the answer.

The students will solve the problem in numerous ways. They may use the numbers sentence 5+4=9, they may draw a picture of 5 kids in a pool and 4 outside, they may draw circles, or even use tally marks. Any of these ways are acceptable because they are showing how they got the answer in a way that they relate to.

Once my students are done, I have them share in 1 of two ways. First I might have a few students show their answer to the problem to the whole class and explain how they got their answer. I make sure that there are a variety of ways that I show to the class so that the students understand that there are many different ways to show an answer.

The other way is through a gallery walk. This is where the students walk around the room (with their hands to themselves and mouths closed), and look at other people’s answers. Once they come to the carpet they talk about a few answers they saw and what they noticed about how other people answered their questions. This is a great way to review the problem and to provide ideas on how to solve a problem that they might not have thought of.

## Numberless Word Problems

Numberless word problems are the perfect way to start off by introducing a new concept for students. First, you introduce the problem without the numbers, then you reveal the first number, the second number, and finally the question that they need to solve the problem. Remembering of course after each reveals you need to ask students what is happening in the story and have them tell you in their own words. Once they have the complete story, they are able to go back to their seats and solve the problem.

By not looking at the numbers, students are able to focus their understanding of the story and extract the important information. Once students have the information that they need, they are able to determine how to solve the problem, and then they just need to focus on plugging in the numbers.

So next time you are looking to teach your students word problems, try this technique with them and see how it works!

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