Help Your Kids Solve Multi-Step Word Problems

This three step process won&t just help your kids tackle multi-step math problems, but increase their math reasoning as well.
By Jennifer Hogan
Dec 23, 2016



Dec 23, 2016

For math homework, I always tell my daughter to solve the problems she knows how to do on her own first, and then leave the more difficult problems for us to work on together. Almost every time, she leaves her math word problems to go over with me.

For those of you who aren't familair with the term, a word problem is just like a math problem, except it uses text to present the problem. Here's an example of a one step word problem:
Sarah brought 3 sugar cookies to school and gave 1 of them to her teacher. How many sugar cookies did Sarah have left?

Many children find word problems to be pretty intimidating. So much so that a lot of children don’t even read them thoroughly. It's as if they've given up before the problem's even begun!

Now enter in multi-step word problems(!!), which require your children to to use more than one step to find the solution. Starting around 2nd grade, your children will be asked to solve two-step word problems. This can add greater stress and anxiety about word problems, and apprehension about math in general. Especially if your children aren't equipped with the right tools.

But not to worry. We've got the tools. Below are steps you can use to help your child solve multi-step problems. Creating this process is not only crucial to the development of your child's independent thinking, but will also build her confidence about all aspects of math.

Here are steps to solving a multi-step problem:

Step 1: Circle and underline. Circle only the necessary information and underline what ultimately needs to be figured out.

Step 2: Figure out the first step/problem in the paragraph and solve it.

Last step: Find the answer by using the information from Steps 1 and 2.

These steps might be simple, but not for a young student. In fact they're part of an important process your child can refer to no matter what the problem is asking her. patient. At first, this process needs to be drawn out for your child so she can see the importance of doing each step, but eventually she will be able to navigate multi-step problems with ease.

Here's an example of this in practice:

Step 1. (See above circling and underlining.)
3 trays of sugar, 10 on each tray, 20 gingerbread, how many cookies in all?

Step 2.  How many sugar cookies did Sarah bake?
3 trays of 10 cookies = 30 sugar cookies
3 x 10 = 30  or 10 + 10 + 10 = 30

Step 3:  How many cookies were baked in all?
30 sugar + 20 gingerbread = 50 cookies

Answer:  They baked 50 cookies for Christmas

Using this process will be a great start to helping your child solve multi-step problems. Having your child see the steps and make sense of why she is doing each one, is going to help her reasoning tremendously, and promote some belief in her own math thinking as well.

Does your child struggle with multi-step word problems? Share if this strategy helps on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page

Featured Photo Credit: © Yin Yang/istockphotos

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