Maths word problems are a common area of concern for parents because they don’t know how to help their child. Hopefully this article will give you some strategies to use so that problem solving is not a problem any more.
In my experience, there are 2 reasons why the child cannot do the maths word problem:
1. The child does not understand the question.
If comprehension is weak, then the child will struggle to see what he needs to do. A weak reader reads mechanically and approaches a sentence word by word, and misses out on the bigger picture. They will often read the whole question and then give you a blank look, because they haven’t thought about what they are reading.
I use “DRAW” method to help children understand a question. For example in the following question:
“There are 4 boys with 6 sweets each. How many sweets altogether?”
Ask your child, what they could draw a picture of from the information in the question. You might need to explain the meaning of the word “each” or the word “altogether”
Another strategy I use is called the “FLOW CHART” method. This might be more suitable for older children, where they have to work out problems involving more than one step. Change the sentence into a flow chart or diagram where each step is connected by an arrow. For the following problem, you might need to teach your child how to half a number. I have written a blog post on this topic.
“Damien had 6 stickers. His Mum gave him 10 more. He then gave half to his brother. How many did he have left?”
The “TRANSLATE” strategy is also a useful way of getting children to understand the word problem. Children need to understand the maths language used in questions. At the simplest level they need to understand that the word “and” in a question means + in maths. This blog I wrote on the topic may be useful.
The following example is a GCSE level question and requires an understanding of the word “profit”.
“A shopkeeper sold 16 articles for a total of £400 and made a profit of £48.00. How much did each article cost him? “
2. The child cannot do the maths required for the problem.
After ensuring that your child can understand what to do, you then have to make sure they can do the working out. For example in the question below,
“A shopkeeper sold 16 articles for a total of £400 and made a profit of £48.00. How much did each article cost him?”
the steps are as follows:
£400-£48 = £352
£352 divided by 16
If the child cannot do column subtraction or long division, she will struggle.
Problem solving questions usually involve the four basic operators in Maths. At a higher level, they may involve knowledge of time/percentages/algebra and fractions. If this is the weakness in your child, ensure that he or she gets to learn these skills first.