Problem Solving Strategies February 25 2014, 4 Comments

How would you solve this problem:

Would you draw a picture, make a list possible number pairs that have the ratio 5:3, or guess and check?

Students, especially those with learning disabilities, struggle to solve math word problems. They often demonstrate difficulty when choosing an appropriate strategy, or plan of attack. Explicit strategy instruction should be an integral part of your math classroom, whether you're teaching kindergarten or 12th grade. Teach students that they can choose from a list of strategies to solve a problem, and often there isn't one correct way of finding a solution. Demonstrate how you solve a word problem by thinking aloud as you choose and execute a strategy. Ask students if they would solve the problem differently and praise students for coming up with unique ways of arriving at an answer.

Here are some problem solving strategies I've taught my students:

1. Draw a picture: Will a drawing help me understand and solve the problem?
2. Guess and check: Plug in numbers. Does the answer make sense? If not, change your numbers and try again.
3. Make a list
4. Make a table
5. Act it out: Grab a friend and reenact the word problem.
6. Work backwards: Begin with the last piece of information and work backwards.
7. Write a number sentence: Is there an equation that I can use the solve the problem? Do I need to add, subtract, multiply, or divide?
8. Use objects: Are there manipulatives in the classroom I can use, such as counters or base-10 blocks?

Below is a helpful chart to remind students of the many problem solving strategies they can use when solving word problems. This useful handout is a great addition to students' strategy binders, math notebooks, or math journals.

How do you teach problem solving in your classroom? Feel free to share advice and tips below!