Teaching Students to Write Word Problems

I love word problems.  There I said it, I really do.  Anytime I can squeeze in some extra practice for my kiddos, I do!  I especially love tasking my students with writing their own word problems.  This encourages them to think about word problems more critically than when they simply read and solve a problem.

How to Write Word Problems
We recently started practicing this skill in my classroom. Typically, I start this much earlier in the school year, but we just weren't ready to tackle this skill until recently.  Some years are like that, right?  Now that the skill has been introduced, we can practice it each week (and I'm pretty excited about that).
A Few Things You Need to Know
When I task my students with writing their own word problems there are two things you need to know.  
1. I give them a starting point.  Meaning, the activity isn't totally open ended.  I give them an answer, and it is their job to write a word problem to match.
2. I start out by keeping it simple because I want them to grasp the concept and feel successful with something new. I encourage the use of key words, and I encourage them to write straightforward problems without "extra" information.  When the time is right, they will be encouraged to write tougher problems. 
So, to introduce the skill of writing word problems, I use this chart.

And, this mini book (or some variation of it....more on that in a moment).

Here's a look at that chart again. 
Keep in mind that these guidelines work for us because we write word problems based on a given answer.  
Once we go over the chart, we write at least one word problem together, using the mini book from above and the chart to guide us.  Then, I have the students work in pairs to write a second word problem. I check their stories as they finish.  Finally, the students write one word problem independently.  Again, I check it when they are finished writing because I like to help them make any necessary corrections/changes on the spot. 
As we revisit the skill each week, the students will write one story at a time.  Independently.  
I keep it simple at first, encouraging them to use key words, and to stick to simple stories (two statements and a question) like the one shown below.  Once they have these steps down, I will begin to encourage them to add extra information to their problems. 

I love using my What's the Problem? mini books for practicing this skill (shown above, and below).  I made an entire series of these mini books several years ago, and they are still a useful resource.  Did I mention that they are a freebie?  ;)  This one is The Lucky Edition, but I've made one for just about every month of the year.

As mentioned above, the first day that we practice this skill the students write three word problems. After that, they write just a few a week.  We bring the book out as part of our math warm up, or at the end of our math lesson.  They end up writing about two word problems a week.  This gives them continued practice, but they also don't get burned out as easily as they would if we did it every.single.day.   

A Few Final Thoughts
It is always harder for students to write a word problem than it is to solve one.  And, they learn this pretty quickly.  However, they seem to enjoy the challenge of getting it right.  As we say in my classroom, if you don't challenge your brain, it won't grow.  So, bring on the challenge! 
When you're first starting out, you'll notice that some students "get it" very quickly, whereas others need repeated practice with the skill before it begins to click. Some students will need more scaffolding than others, and some will need to be encouraged to write "tougher" problems. I've even changed some of the answers for students who needed to work with either bigger or smaller numbes.  As always, do what's best for your students and differentiate as needed. 

Below are links to the What's the Problem mini books that I've shared in the past.  I hope you can use them.  :)
Have fun challenging your learners!


Teach Students How to Write Word Problems

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  1. Hi! I've used these with my advanced students for a couple of years! I love them!
    Great anchor chart!

    1. Hi Charlotte!

      I'm thrilled to hear that you've been using them! That is awesome. Thank you so much for stopping by!


  2. I'm adapting this for 3rd grade multiplication problems for my observation. Fingers crossed!

    1. I hope it is successful! Thank you for stopping by my blog. :)



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