Teaching with numberless word problems is the best way to help your students gain mathematical reasoning. Just in case you did not know, solving word problems of all sorts should be a critical component of your computation and algebraic thinking curriculum. This is why:
- It truly is through word problems that students develop a full understanding of the 4 basic operations.
- Word problems are part of the mathematical development of your students, and it is through them that they will learn sophisticated strategies and mastery of basic facts.
- Children develop different methods of computing through word problems as well. A good example is place value.
- Teaching your students the structure of word problems will inevitably result in the nurturing of their relational thinking.
Consider providing context first! Provide your students with the meaning behind a problem by removing the numbers.
That’s right! No numbers! Numberless word problems!!
It is true that many students in Kindergarten will do better at solving word problems than students in the upper grades. Why? Simple. Once students have learned computational skills, they often think that this is what problem solving means –simply computing without any understating. These students are the ones who love to guess and ignore problem context.
I know you can relate! This is the main obstacle in classrooms everywhere!
As you model with numberless word problems during whole group lessons, encourage problem analysis by developing intentional conversations. Some questions that encourage classroom discussions are:
- What is happening in this situation?
- What will the answer tell us?
- Do you think it will be a big number or a small number?
With these questions, students will have no choice but to focus on the conceptual understanding of the problem and the meaning of the answer rather than on computing alone.
Another important reminder is to chunk, chunk, and chunk! What does this mean? Have your students chunk the numberless word problem by stopping at each period and making sense of the situation little by little. By the end, they should be able to tell you where the unknown is located, and if the answer will be more or less.
This is a routine for numberless word problems that I have developed after years of experience and careful observations of my students:
Another important reminder is that you should aim to teach addition and subtraction as related processes. Missing addends, fact families, relationships, number bonds don’t have to be taught in isolation.
As you continue with instructional math routines, think aloud! Just like you would with a read aloud when modeling reading strategies. Demonstrate how to construct a model of your understanding. Your model may look like tallies, number bonds, bar models, or regular illustrations.
Last but not least, ALWAYS AVOID TEACHING KEYWORDS! Key words can be misleading because they can suggest an operation that is incorrect. Not to mention that the key words approach sends a terrible message about doing mathematics, and they encourage our students to find an easy way out. They take away all the reasoning and making mathematical sense.
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Thank you for reading! And please remember that your classroom is the place where the magic happens!