Even though we just got back from Thanksgiving break and Christmas break is literally just around the corner (how can that be?!) we’re still working through content like it’s no one’s business. Who’s got down time in 3rd grade? #notthisteacher This week is all about solving multi-step word problems.
Now, any teacher can tell you that word problems on their own are tricky enough. Key-words, important information, sometimes extra information, it’s all hard to sort through when you’re just a kid! Multi-step problems take this stress to a whole new level because now you can’t just put two numbers together and call it quits, you have to do ANOTHER step to solve! #kidsworsenightmare #ijustwannabedone.
So, we’ve implemented a process to help us zero in on the information and decide what steps we have to take to solve those tricky problems! I call it the three-step method, but I am sure there is a formal name for what I’m about to share…
Solving Word Problems Reminder
First, I reviewed with my class how to solve regular word problems. I’ve taught them the strategy, “Circle, Circle, Underline” (circle information and underline what they want them to do figure out) to help zero in on the important stuff. We solved the problem and we were ready to move on. Then, I added a second question to our previous. I showed the students how to use information gathered from our first step to solve the second question. Once we solved, we headed back to our seats to take notes on the three-step method.
You can read more about our simple chant to help with 1 step word problems here!
I used the gradual release process as teaching structure for this method and it worked really well.
Modeling Two-Step Word Problems
First, the kiddos wrote out the 3 steps to take to solve a multi-step word problem.
I like having kids write things in their own words. It makes me think they are “owning” their learning. We worked together using the three-step process to solve a sample problem right below.
Practice With a Buddy
Then, it was their turn to practice with a buddy. I have my class in Kagan style groupings, so I had them turn to their shoulder partner for this part.
They talked it through with their buddy and then glued it in.
Finally, they were ready to try the process on their own. They worked through the word problems just like they did with their buddy. And because their buddy was still sitting right by them, they could also double check if they had an issue.
Number Talking our Answers
Once all the students were ready, we came back together as a class and shared every single person’s way of solving the problem. I wanted each student to take a moment and explain their thought process. Eventually, we’ll move to writing out the why’s and how’s but for now, talking is our first step!
I recorded everyone’s method on the whiteboard. (Yes… my new school has half chalkboard and half whiteboard… so sad!)
The results were powerful! If students used the exact same method, I wrote their names next to the work shown. It was a great start to explaining our thinking. Together our little class of 15 was able to come up with 9 different ways to solve this one problem! I loved the conversations that sparked afterward, “Why did you do that?” “Why did you do this?” “That would have been an easier way…”
This was one of the most effective strategies I’ve ever used for solving word problems! No more wondering… wait… did I do all the steps? Solved, completed, BAM! If you’re in need of some more multi-step word problem activities, be sure to check out these word problem task cards!