For many students word problems are the most difficult part of math. They require not only perfect understanding of math, but also good linguistic skills and the ability to translate the verbal meaning into an algebraic equation. If your child often fails at solving word problems, you need to act now and help him improve.
The more advanced the word problems are, the more difficult it will be for your child to solve them. Teach your child these simple rules and practice them whenever you can:
1. Understanding the problem
Before you move on to solving the word problem, make sure that you understand it. Read it more than once and stop to think about what the author of the problem wants you to find out? Next, underline all useful data provided in the text, especially the numbers and expressions, which can be translated into parts of the equation.
Now ask yourself, is there any information implied in the problem? Is the problem invoking a commonly known mathematical fact or theorem? If it does, write the information down, before you move on to the next stage.
2. Draw the problem
Visualization is a powerful technique, which can be applied to solve all kinds of math problems. Draw a picture representing the problem and highlight the information you already have. Some word problems are easy to draw, but some might be a bit challenging. We recommend checking Singapore Math methods, such as Bar Modeling, which was created in order to help students create a graphic representation of the problem
3. Translating the text into numbers and math symbols
This is the most crucial part of solving word problem: you need to translate all meaningful verbal expressions into numbers and symbols, which will form the equation. For example, expressions such as: “increased”, “in addition”, “more than” are usually equivalent to the “+” symbol, while expressions such as ”decreased by”, “difference” or “less than” can usually be translated as the “-“ symbol.
Create a list with all the expressions you have found in word problems so far and make notes about the correct translations. It should help you see the connection between certain words and algebraic symbols.
4. Check the translation and solve the equation
Now read the algebraic equation in your mind, translating it back to English. Does it sound similar to the original text of the word problem? It does not have to sound identical, what is important is to preserve the meaning of the word problem. If the re-translation does not sound similar, look for possible errors in your translation.
When you are sure that you translated all expressions correctly and you have a complete equation, it is time to finally solve it! Apply algebraic rules to solve the equation and remember about the most important math rule: what you did on one side of the equation has to be repeated on the other side as well.
Once you have the solution ready, see whether it fits with the rest of the word problem (e.g. isn’t the number too big or too small compared to other data in the word problem). If you think that the solution might not be correct, review your equation.
Marta Gromadzka is a writer and editor with a wide variety of experience, including writing for websites internationally and editing books on many different subjects and in a variety of formats.