Most of the time, my students just added the two numbers together without making sense of the problem. I am a big proponent of NOT teaching keyword lists.It just doesn’t work consistently across all problems.You can read more about the Addition & Subtraction Word Problems Resource that I use in my classroom in this blog post. Removing the distraction of the numbers helps students focus on the situation of the problem and understand the action or relationship of the numbers.

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At some point, we do create a list of words, but not a keyword list.

We create a list of actions or verbs and determine whether those actions are joining or separating something. Here are a few ideas: Join: put, got, picked up, bought, made Separate: ate, lost, put down, dropped, used in the problem and the result of the problem. These are all words we use when solving problems and we learn the structure of a word problem through the vocabulary and relationship of the numbers.

When I teach word problems, I give students problems with blank spaces and no numbers. We identify whether something is being added to or taken from something else. We identify what we have to solve and set up the equation with blank spaces and a square for the unknown number ___ ___ = unknown Do you want a free sample of the word problems I use in my classroom? Only after we have discussed the problem do I give students numbers. At the beginning of the year, we all do the same numbers, so that I can make sure students understand the process.

After students are familiar with the process, I start to give different students different numbers, based on their level of mathematical thinking.

You’ll see how I sometimes gave students copies of the model that they could glue into their notebook and sometimes students drew their own model.

They need to be responsible for choosing what works best for them. Teach the strategies first through the use of math fact practice, before applying it to word problems so that students understand the strategies and can quickly choose one to use. Once students have some fluency in a few strategies, have them choose strategies that work for different problems.I also change numbers throughout the year, from one-digit to two-digit numbers.The beauty of the blank spaces is that I can put any numbers I want into the problem, to practice the strategies we have been working on in class.The examples above are mainly for join and separate problems.It’s no wonder our students have so much difficulty with compare problems since we don’t teach them to the same degree as join and separate problems.The most important thing about models is to move away from them. You spend so long teaching students how to use models and then you don’t want them to use a model.Well, actually, you want students to move toward efficiency.Start your instruction with specific models and then allow students to choose one to use. Be purposeful in the numbers that you choose for your word problems.Different number sets will lend themselves to different strategies and different models.Use number sets that students have already practiced computationally.If you’ve taught make 10, use numbers that make 10.