Third Grade Word Problems: How to Help Your 3rd Grader Learn Problem Solving

Figuring out math word problems is a great way for third graders to practice solving real-world problems. Because 3rd graders are still learning basic math skills, word problems at this level are simple and straightforward. They provide an opportunity for you to teach fundamental problem-solving skills using the pointers below.

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Teaching Third Graders Problem-Solving Skills

Clarify Your Thinking

To teach your third-grader how to solve a math problem, you need to know the thought processes that you use to solve problems. Be aware of the steps you take. You may need to translate automatic processes that you follow into conscious ones that you can verbalize to your child.

Teach with Demonstrations

Model how to solve a number of problems and have your child follow along step by step. Focus on problems that use only one kind of operation (e.g., addition) until he can do them easily. Then, have him do problems by himself before you go on to demonstrate problems that require different operations.

As you demonstrate how to solve a problem, think out loud, being sure your child understands each step. Your logical thinking will be the basic skill you teach through demonstration. You'll also be teaching her how to identify what information in the problem is useful and what is just for 'decoration.' Your child will also learn how to choose which operation or operations to use to solve the problem.

Children tend to notice only the numbers given in a word problem. Learning to focus on the relationships between the numbers in the problems will help your child solve the problems more easily. Have your child create his own word problems that are especially relevant to his life. For instance, he might calculate the allowance he receives each week minus the amount he has to save, which would equal the money he can spend. This activity may help him be more aware of the relationship between the numbers, rather than the numbers themselves.

Teach Strategies

If your child doesn't know how to begin solving a word problem, it can be helpful to teach her a variety of strategies. These include:

  • Arranging facts in a list or table
  • Making a picture or diagram
  • Seeing if there is a pattern
  • Using objects to 'act out' the problem
  • Trial and error - trying something to see if it works

Teach Basic Steps

There are basic steps that your child can follow to solve a word problem. As you perform them, you can say, 'The first thing we do is . . . ', and 'Next, we . . .'

These steps are:

  1. Read the whole problem carefully until you understand it.
  2. Underline or highlight the part of the problem that shows the question you need to answer. Sometimes it helps to restate the question in your own words.
  3. Circle the numbers and words that you'll use to find the answer.
  4. Decide whether you need to add, subtract, multiply or divide (more than one of these operations may be used) and which numbers to use for the operation, or each operation that's necessary. Look for guide words as clues.
  5. Solve the problem, then check your math. Also be sure that the answer is logical.

Teach Guide Words

Word problems often include guide words, which are specific words that tell you whether to add, subtract, multiply or divide.

Words for Addition:

  • Added to
  • Combined
  • In all
  • Increased by
  • Sum
  • Total of

Words for Subtraction:

  • Are left
  • Decreased by
  • Difference
  • How much more
  • Less than
  • Minus
  • Taken from

Words for Multiplication:

  • Area
  • Multiplied by
  • Of
  • Product
  • Times

Words for Division:

  • Distribute
  • Out of
  • Per
  • Quotient
  • Share
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