• by Blaine Helwig

Word Problems: Student Benefits and Effective Teaching Tips

Updated: Oct 5

The daily teaching of math word problems is essential if students are to become adept problem solvers. The consistency of a daily routine has an emotional and confidence aspect to the learning as well as the more apparent academic benefit.

What are the Primary Benefits of Daily Math Word Problem Practice?

  1. Application of a skill based curriculum – discrete skills presented in a real world scenario.

  2. Repeated practice of specific content (e.g. area or volume) establishes mastery and retention.

  3. Embedded discrete math skills in word problems are practiced securing endemic mastery.

  4. Provides young students with perspective, rationale and importance in learning discrete math skills.

  5. Student confidence and self-esteem are heightened as word problems are readily solved accurately and independently.

  6. Establishes elementary students a foundation in developmental critical thinking in preparation for more difficult algebraic and geometric level mathematics.

If third graders, for example, practice 4 to 6 word math problems every day, they will be surprising adept problem solvers in only three to four weeks. Equally important, students develop the true nature of problem solving efficacy without realizing it. For example, as expected, students master solving a specific content word problem with associated practice, but they are also able to apply that learned solution technique to derivative problems and solve those problems as well.

This type of problem solving mastery is an implicit developmental goal of all teachers at any level, and when provided a daily diet of math word problems, elementary students naturally develop this ability.


Teachers must provide deliberate instruction for students to develop good problem solving skills. As with their students, pedagogy mastery is via consistent daily practice, teaching a specific methodology and setting high performance expectations for students.


What are Effective Pedagogy Traits in Developing the Problem Solving Abilities of Students?

  1. Provide 4 to 8 word problems (Standards based) per day – teacher constructed or via a commercial vendor.

  2. Direct modeling for students to establish clear expectations on problem solving methodology.

  3. Use a set procedural method with students that they follow on all word problems – For example: a.) Underline the last sentence of the word problem so students specifically know what they are trying to find. b.) Circle all relevant information – words and numbers. Cross out extraneous data! c.) Students should be required to show ALL work in an organized and clear manner. No mental mathematics during the problem solving process. Teachers need to visually check all student work to ensure understanding. d.) Students should circle their answer and write a short sentence explaining their answer.

  4. Teachers should check and actively monitor independent student work in real time and not allow short-cuts to problem solving methodology – regardless if the correct answer is on the student’s paper without related work. If permitted, similar short-cuts will occur in the future.

It is recommended teachers model this process with their elementary students 4 to 5 days and slowly ween them to work problems independently. Teaching is communicating thinking. This process is not a discovery method. The teacher should provide a method so students ‘discover’ an effective and consistent means to become adept problem solvers. In this situation, students should emulate a method before they innovate with their own methodology. Innovation will naturally occur over time after a foundation is soundly established.