Problems Problem Solving!

How can problem solving be effectively taught?

Teaching Problem Solving: The First Steps

From the very beginning, when each an operation is introduced, the focus of the teaching should be on real life examples. Counters and other concrete materials should be used to model and real-life examples using accurate language given:


…3 bananas and 4 apple

…2 more birds flew by…


…two balloons popped…

…dropped 3 coins…


…2 teams of 8…

…4 stacks of books…


…12 pies shared evenly…

…placed into equal groups…


A link should be established between the symbol (+ – x ÷), the term (addition/subtraction/multiplication/division) and the real word examples to which they have been exposed.

Building a solid understanding of the concept of each operation is crucial. If the child is moved on too quickly, a solid foundation will be missing. The gaps will become obvious when children are exposed to worded problems in which they must work out the operation for themselves.


Introducing Worded Problems

Start by focusing on a single operation. Tell the child that all the problems are addition (or whichever operation your focus is). Expose the child to different wordings and use a highlighter to identify the language in the problems that indicates this operation. Together, make a list of words that indicate the operation on which you are focusing. Display this list for the child’s reference.


Increasing the Challenge

The next step is to introduce children to word problems in which they must determine the operation. They should be guided through the reading of the problem, looking out for key words (refer to vocabulary displays if needed) and making a choice as to the operation. If the child has a solid foundation (understanding of the concept and awareness of vocabulary), this shouldn’t be a big leap for the child.




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