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Using Bar Models to Solve Word Problems

Teach your child how to decode math word problems using this easy and effective tool.
on February 16, 2016

Word problems are one of the toughest parts for any aged student to solve in mathematics. Many times, I see students sitting and staring at a problem, wasting time and having nowhere to go. They have such a hard time “entering” the problem, and knowing where to begin and how to decipher through all the words. It can be very overwhelming and frustrating for a child, which eventually turns into dislike of the entire subject. On the other end, there are students who can solve the problem but then struggle to show their work and get frustrated because they have difficulty communicating their thinking clearly. Then enters the parents who try to help, but either ends up doing most of the problem for their child or confuses the child even more. This is where modeling becomes so important in math! Students can use a model to help them decipher the information and begin to understand how to solve the problem. A model that is great for problem solving with either adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing is a bar model. Bar models can be used starting as young as first grade but are also used well into algebra. A bar model is so helpful because it allows the student to decipher between the WHO and the WHAT in a word problem, and visually “see” the information from the problem and what they are looking for.

1. WHO is the problem about?

2. WHAT information do I know?

3. WHAT do I need to find out?

Here are some examples of how to have children use bar models to help solve word problems.

Sarah put her eleven fish into her sister's fish tank. Now there were twenty fish total in the tank. How many fish were in the tank to start with? 

? + 11 = 20


Luke had $157. After buying some new toys he had $44 left. How much did he spend on toys?

157 - ? = 44


A library was open for seven hours. They checked out forty-nine books total. If they checked out the same number each hour, how many did they check out per hour?

7 x ? = 49  or  49 ÷ 7 = ?

Each day a movie theater used three pounds of butter. If they used twenty-four pounds of butter, how many days did it take?

?  x  3 = 24  or  24 ÷ 3 = ?



If you are struggling to help your child with his or her homework, submit your questions to Jennifer and she might answer in an upcoming blog.

About this blog

Scholastic Parents is a trusted source of expert advice on reading and learning. In the Learning Toolkit blog, get quick and easy tips on how to support your child’s learning at home. From playing a fun game of creating new words during dinner to solving bedtime math stories and using easy tricks to try with homework problems, this blog offers simple suggestions for supporting your child’s development at every age and every stage.

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