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Circle, Circle, Underline: A Simple Word Problem Strategy

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So let’s talk about word problems, shall we? What is it about them that just messes kids up? Is it the need to read while doing math? Maybe it’s just too many words to dig through? Whatever it is, there’s just something about word problems that causes panic in my students’ eyes. That is until I started teaching them this simple word problem strategy.


Circle, Circle, Underline

So what’s the strategy? Well, it’s simple really… it’s a little chant I like to call, “Circle, Circle, Underline!” After reading the word problem, I have my students work to find the important information and underline what they want us to do (or the question). We call this “circle, circle, underline!” and I’ve found it does amazingly well at helping my beginning mathematicians make sense of all those words!

word problem strategy math isn

Looking for a strategy to help with multi-step word problems? Check out this post!

Introducing the Word Problem Strategy

To introduce this strategy, I first give students an example of a word problem. We talk about how all word problems have the same parts to them. They have information given and a question that needs to be answered using that information.

From there, I show them how I go through and find these important parts and “circle, circle, underline” them as I go through. I’ve found it’s best to make notes in our math interactive student notebooks (or math isns) so we can reference back to these steps anytime we need.

So, after introducing the concept whole group, I have students head back to their seats and pull out their math isns and we start gluing in some reference pages together. I tell my students, these are the pages we’ll use anytime we forget what to do!

word problem strategy printable

Trying it Together

Now that we’ve had a chance to make a reference page, the students are ready to use the strategy in guided practice. Here’s where I really hit home the chant of “circle, circle, underline.” I’ve found my kids remember things when there’s a song involved. Seriously, these kids can quote me some of the most school inappropriate lyrics! So, I’m using that to my advantage and made this a chant!

For the guided practice, students work to rewrite the steps to the word problem strategy. This way they will remember it, always! Remember: writing things helps our brains remember! From there, we then work to circle, circle, underline a word problem together. This way I can guide their practice and spot check their understanding of our strategy.


simple word problem strategy

Practice Time

Now that the students have made their own reference pages, they’re ready to move on to using this strategy on their own. I pass out a page for them to work on using the “circle, circle, underline” word problem strategy. Here’s where I walk around and make sure all my students are understanding how to use this strategy.

This is also a great time for students to work in pairs if needed. That collaborative discussion can help your students better understand the concept!

And that’s it… it is seriously one of the easiest strategies to teach but it is so powerful! It works so well, in fact, I taught it to my 1st-grade son who was really struggling with sorting out word problems on his math homework. Now, I hear him chanting away as he dives right in! PTL!

My students always need practice with word problems, so I love putting them in our math center tubs. Be sure to check out these Differentiated Word Problem Task Cards

Word Problem Strategy Free Download

To make it easier for you to teach this strategy to your students, be sure to grab the math isn pages I used in the form below! Just add your name and email and POOF! This little freebie will be sent right to your inbox! Don’t use math ISNs? Don’t worry! You can print out the sheets and use them as if needed!

Hi, I'm Leigh.

The Applicious Teacher is all about creating hands-on and engaging lessons that align with the standards while still having time for your life. This is your place for ideas, tips, and resources for the REAL teacher!


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