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January 19, 2017

CUBES Strategy to Tackle Tough Word Problems

By Genia Connell
Grades 3–5

    When I was in third grade, we proudly memorized our multiplication tables. That was the grand expectation. Decades later, when I began to teach third grade, not much had changed. Over time, as standards evolved, my third graders began doing basic algebra along with fraction and geometry work that used to be done in fourth and fifth grade. A few years ago, however, we were told by the state that some of our third graders weren't "college-ready" (I mentioned they were third graders, right?).

    To help get all of our elementary students ready for that first week at MIT, we adopted a new, more rigorous math series. Now, my 8-year-olds begin third grade in September doing multiplication and division word problems using variables. No matter that many of them still haven't grasped addition and subtraction, and they don't know their times facts all that well, these are the expectations.

    While many are prepared for this challenge, many others are not quite developmentally ready for the beginnings of algebra in the third grade. Differentiating for these students is key to keep any gaps from widening. I work with them before school, after school, and at recess. We try manipulatives and drawing pictures, but many students have a hard time even getting to that point because they don’t understand what the complex questions are asking.

    One of the best strategies I've discovered to help my students tackle the language behind these word problems is called CUBES. This week I'm happy to share the power of this acronym that helps my students tackle tough math problems with more success than ever before.

    Introduce the Strategy

    The strategy is quite simple. Print and use the poster below to guide you as you introduce this technique to your class

    When I first introduce CUBES, I model it on the interactive whiteboard using word problems from their book. Next we'll do a few together, and then the students are good to use it on their own.

    I keep the CUBES poster hung up in the room and I’ve also printed small, quarter-page sized copies that my students can use for bookmarks in their math journal and take home for homework. Now that they are familiar with the technique, I’ve noticed several students still write the word CUBES in the corner of their papers as a reminder to circle, underline, box, eliminate/evaluate, and solve the problem.

    Benefits for All Students

    When my students use this strategy, they do a much better job of identifying the key components of the word problems. After introducing this technique, however, I was surprised to discover many of my students had difficulty identifying the question that needed to be answered or they didn’t readily recognize key math words such as fewer than or combined. Watching my students attempt to use CUBES provided visual evidence as to where they needed extra support. Knowing which parts of the word problem were causing problems made planning for small group lessons much easier!

          

    While this strategy helps students make sense of difficult problems, an added benefit is that it also helps slow down my higher-ability students who sometimes rush through their work without always attending to precision. I've noticed a great reduction in those careless errors.

    If you have never done so, give the CUBES strategy a try in your classroom. If it helps just one or two students make sense of tough word problems and feel more successful while doing so, it’s worth it!

    Thanks for reading,

    Genia

    When I was in third grade, we proudly memorized our multiplication tables. That was the grand expectation. Decades later, when I began to teach third grade, not much had changed. Over time, as standards evolved, my third graders began doing basic algebra along with fraction and geometry work that used to be done in fourth and fifth grade. A few years ago, however, we were told by the state that some of our third graders weren't "college-ready" (I mentioned they were third graders, right?).

    To help get all of our elementary students ready for that first week at MIT, we adopted a new, more rigorous math series. Now, my 8-year-olds begin third grade in September doing multiplication and division word problems using variables. No matter that many of them still haven't grasped addition and subtraction, and they don't know their times facts all that well, these are the expectations.

    While many are prepared for this challenge, many others are not quite developmentally ready for the beginnings of algebra in the third grade. Differentiating for these students is key to keep any gaps from widening. I work with them before school, after school, and at recess. We try manipulatives and drawing pictures, but many students have a hard time even getting to that point because they don’t understand what the complex questions are asking.

    One of the best strategies I've discovered to help my students tackle the language behind these word problems is called CUBES. This week I'm happy to share the power of this acronym that helps my students tackle tough math problems with more success than ever before.

    Introduce the Strategy

    The strategy is quite simple. Print and use the poster below to guide you as you introduce this technique to your class

    When I first introduce CUBES, I model it on the interactive whiteboard using word problems from their book. Next we'll do a few together, and then the students are good to use it on their own.

    I keep the CUBES poster hung up in the room and I’ve also printed small, quarter-page sized copies that my students can use for bookmarks in their math journal and take home for homework. Now that they are familiar with the technique, I’ve noticed several students still write the word CUBES in the corner of their papers as a reminder to circle, underline, box, eliminate/evaluate, and solve the problem.

    Benefits for All Students

    When my students use this strategy, they do a much better job of identifying the key components of the word problems. After introducing this technique, however, I was surprised to discover many of my students had difficulty identifying the question that needed to be answered or they didn’t readily recognize key math words such as fewer than or combined. Watching my students attempt to use CUBES provided visual evidence as to where they needed extra support. Knowing which parts of the word problem were causing problems made planning for small group lessons much easier!

          

    While this strategy helps students make sense of difficult problems, an added benefit is that it also helps slow down my higher-ability students who sometimes rush through their work without always attending to precision. I've noticed a great reduction in those careless errors.

    If you have never done so, give the CUBES strategy a try in your classroom. If it helps just one or two students make sense of tough word problems and feel more successful while doing so, it’s worth it!

    Thanks for reading,

    Genia

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