Monday, June 1, 2015

Make Your Own Word Problem Activity

At The Yellin Center, we often work with students who struggle with word problems. The difficulty can come from not being able to identify the salient information that is required to solve the problem. Other times, it can be difficult for a student to understand the language of a word problem, and to decide what “how many more” means in terms of mathematical concepts. Selecting the appropriate algorithm (sequence of steps) to use can also be challenging for some students. Regardless of the challenges, getting an in-depth understanding of how a word problem is constructed and how the language of the problem translates into mathematical concepts is important for students. One way to expose students to the structure of word problems is by having them construct their own. This is an activity I would usually give to primary students, and they would be required to select some of the information to create and solve a story (or word) problem of their own.

My Animal Story Problems activity always followed a lesson with guided modeling on how to create word problems. We would construct several word problems together as an entire class, being sure to clearly define terminology like “how many more”, “how many”, “how much more” and “all together” meant. I would then have students create word problems in small groups or with partners, and provide the opportunity for students to create their own on the board. It was only then that I would give students this activity to try their hand at independently creating word problems.

I have found that this activity gave me a great deal of insight into what areas my students were finding most difficult about word problems. It was often easy to determine if it was the phrasing of a word problem or selecting the right algorithms based on the given information that the student found challenging.

Note that the examples that follow use the metric system. This incorporates the Common Core standards for elementary grades, which incorporate metric measurements as early as grade two.
  • Grade 2: “Measure the length of an object by selecting and using appropriate tools such as rulers, yardsticks, meter sticks, and measuring tapes and Estimate lengths using units of inches, feet, centimeters, and meters.”
  • Grade 3: “Measure and estimate liquid volumes and masses of objects using standard units of grams (g), kilograms (kg), and liters (l).”
  • Grade 4: “Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec.”
An example of a properly constructed addition word problem using the Animal Story Problems handout would be:

If a turtle is 8cm and a pig is 55cm tall, how tall are they all together?

8 + 55 = 63

Materials Needed

One Animal Story Problem Handout

Game Play Steps

  1. Model how to construct story problems.
  2. Explain activity rules to the students:
  • Each student will select some of the information from the Information Section of the handout.
  • They will then create and solve one addition problem.
  • They will select two different pieces of information.
  • They will then create and solve one subtraction problem.
      3. Allow students time to create their word problems.
      4. Gather handouts for assessment of their understanding of how a word problem is constructed.

Extension Activities
  • Have your students create more than one addition and one subtraction by giving them multiple handouts.
  • Have students create word problems in small groups or pairs to promote mathematical conversation skills.
  • Have students create problems but not solve them. Then have students trade their handouts with other students and solve their friend’s equations.
  • Have students extend their word problems to include distraction information. 
          For Example:
         If a turtle is 8cm, an own is 13 cm tall and a pig is 55cm tall, how tall are the pig and the turtle all together?   8 + 55 = 63

A PDF Version of the game can be downloaded for free. 

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