Problems with Word Problems

Many students have difficulty with word problems.  A series of questions developed by Anne Newman (1977) can help us determine why students make errors with word problems.

1.  Please read the question to me. If you don’t know a word, leave it out.  (Reading)

2.  Tell me what the question is asking you to do.  (Comprehension)

3.  Tell me how you are going to find the answer.  (Transformation – selecting the appropriate mathematical strategy)

4.  Show me what to do to get the answer. “Talk aloud” as you do it, so that I can understand how you are thinking.  (Correctly  performing the mathematical operation)

5.  Now, write down your answer to the question.  (Putting the answer in an acceptable form)

If students are able to complete the 5 steps and still get incorrect answers, they are making careless errors.  Newman’s research found that 70% of student errors were a result of errors in steps 1-3.

Information for this Monday Math Message came from a recent conversation I had and this website –  Newman’s Prompts.  The website includes a video of a student participating in an interview and suggestions for helping students who have difficulties with the first 3 steps of problem solving.

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