In the intricate world of mathematics, word problems often seem like a puzzle wrapped in enigma, presenting a challenge that is infinitely more confusing and complex than a simple, straightforward math problem. The sheer abundance of information and words can be overwhelming, making it difficult for students to decipher where to begin. Sometimes, word problems even contain unnecessary details, posing an additional challenge for those who struggle with reading or for English language learners attempting to comprehend both the language and the underlying mathematical concepts. To tackle this, it’s crucial to help your children make problem-solving a habit, turning what seems like nonsense into a manageable and comprehensible task.

Stop Avoiding Word Problems

In the face of these challenges, simply avoiding word problems is not a viable solution. Word problems are essential for exposing students to real-life applications of mathematical concepts. Furthermore, embracing challenges is a fundamental aspect of the learning process. Instead of eliminating word problems, the focus should be on equipping students with effective tools that enhance their confidence and help them navigate through these seemingly daunting mathematical scenarios.

Empowering Students with Effective Tools

To transform the seemingly overwhelming word problems into manageable tasks, it’s essential to provide students with effective problem-solving tools. Rather than shying away from challenges, the goal is to guide students through a process that breaks down the complexity. When faced with a word problem, there are specific steps and considerations that students can follow to enhance their problem-solving skills.

Understanding the Question

The first step in solving a word problem is understanding the question. This initial phase is critical, demanding the most time and attention. Students must read the problem thoroughly, identifying and highlighting important information. Two essential questions guide this process: What do I know? What do I need to know? For struggling students, rephrasing the problem in their own language can be an effective strategy before moving on to the solution.

Identifying the Question and Planning

Once the problem is understood, students can move on to identifying what the question is asking them to find. This involves selecting the most suitable problem-solving technique and, in some cases, solving intermediary problems to gather necessary information.

Solving the Problem

The next step involves the actual mathematical calculations required to solve the problem. This is where students put their mathematical knowledge into practice, applying the chosen problem-solving technique.

Checking the Solution

Finally, after arriving at a solution, students need to check its reasonableness. If the answer aligns with expectations, they can further verify its accuracy. If, however, the solution seems unreasonable, students are encouraged to review their calculations for errors. If no errors are found, revisiting the problem-solving plan and exploring alternative methods is the next step.


While these four steps may initially appear time-consuming, much of this process occurs mentally as students read through the problem and attempt to comprehend it. As students consistently engage with word problems, this problem-solving process becomes ingrained as a habit, reducing the need for a step-by-step breakdown. Encourage your children to embrace the challenge of word problems, as it is through overcoming such challenges that they develop a robust problem-solving skill set that extends far beyond the realm of mathematics.


  • Bethany Lake. (2015). Strategies for Problem Solving: Equip kids to solve math problems with confidence Scribd.