How to Teach Word Problems to Middle School Students

In middle school math courses, your child will likely be required to solve word problems. Keep reading for information about word problems and how you can help your child learn to do them on his or her own.

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Helping Middle School Children with Word Problems

Challenges of Word Problems

Sometimes, kids in middle school struggle with word problems because word problems not only address math skills, but also reading comprehension and fluency. Word problems present two different challenges. First, your child must weed out extraneous information and then choose the appropriate operation.

Steps for Solving

To separate the linguistic narrative from the mathematical equation, your child will need to read the problem three times. The first time through, your child should simply read for understanding. Next, have him reread the problem and cross out all the unnecessary information. Finally, ask him to read the passage again, underlining important information and looking for clues on how to solve the problem.

There are common acronym-style mnemonic devices that you can use to help your child remember how to solve word problems. One is 'S.O.L.V.E', which stands for 'study, organize, line up a plan, verify your plan and examine your calculations.' Another is 'R.I.D.E', which stands for 'read, identify information, determine the equation and enter calculations.'

Guided Practice

Start by giving your child word problems with a very simple operation, like addition, but put extra information in the problem. Your child will know that she needs to use addition, but she will have to read carefully to figure out which numbers to use. Here's an example:

'Molly bought three red shirts, four red pants, five yellow shirts, six yellow socks, nine green shirts, two green pants and one winter coat. How many shirts did Molly buy?'

This type of problem will encourage your child to read carefully, but won't force her to choose operations, because it's clearly an addition problem. (The answer is 17 shirts altogether.) After your child has completed several practice problems, you can demonstrate problems in which the appropriate operation isn't as clear, or that have multiple operations. For example:

'Molly bought shirts for $10.75 each and pants for $15.40 each. She bought three shirts and two pairs of pants. If she paid with a one hundred dollar bill, how much change did she get back?' (The answer to this problem is $36.95.)

This problem will require your child to use multiplication, addition and subtraction. Problems like these will probably be very challenging at first, but your child will get a lot of practice throughout middle school.

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