Understanding Story Problems

Even if your child understands the basic math operations like addition and subtraction, chances are they still get somewhat confused by story problems.  Story problems can be overwhelming for a number of reasons.  Maybe your child struggles to read all the words in the problem.  Maybe they just don’t know what to do with all those numbers.  Whatever the reason, story problems can be hard for many children. You may want to try some of the following strategies to help your child better understand story problems.

Focus on the question.

Many story problems will have information that is unnecessary to solve the problem.  If you focus on just what will allow you to answer the problem, then it will often be more obvious what information is not needed.  Remember to only use the numbers that you actually need to answer the question.

Draw a picture.

This is an especially helpful strategy if your child is a visual learner.  Have them draw a picture to illustrate what is happening in the story problem.  Often drawing a picture will allow them to see what operation makes sense to use in the problem.

Look for clue words.

Clue words are words within the story problem that give clues as to what operation should be used.  Children who struggle with reading can find the clue words and still know what operation to use.  Here are some of the common clue words:

  •  Addition: sum, total, in all, together, combined
  • Subtraction: difference, less than, more than, how much more, how much less, gave away, take away
  • Multiplication: each, double, twice, times,
  • Division: share equally, every, each

(Multiplication and division clue words can be similar – like each.  Once the clue word is found, it then helps to identify whether a large amount is being broken into smaller parts, division, or a smaller amount is being made bigger, multiplication.)

Check the answer.

Once your child has solved the story problem, encourage them to check their answer.  Have them reread the problem and then compare their answer to the problem.  The answer they have arrived at should make sense. For example: If the story problem asks you to find the price of 10 lbs. of meat at $.59/lb., then adding $.59 + 10 to get $.69 is not only bad math, but it also doesn’t make sense.  $.69 would not be a logical price to pay for 10 lbs. of meat.  If your child’s answer doesn’t make sense, have them either rework the problem or choose another operation to use.

While story problems can be difficult, one or more of these strategies could be the method that allows your child to have a better understanding of how story problems work.  How do you help your child understand story problems?

Check Smart Tutor Elementary Math Curriculum and Free Math Games

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