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A Tip for Solving Word Problems

Date: 11/8/95 at 16:21:55
From: Anonymous
Subject: Tips on Solving Word Problems

Dear Dr.Math:

Our fourth grade class is studying how to solve many different 
types of word problems using addition, subtraction, 
multiplication, and division. 

Can you give us some general steps into solving word problems?

 Thank You,
Sleepy Hollow School

Date: 1/5/96 at 11:10:44
From: Doctor Ethan
Subject: Re: Tips on Solving Word Problems

Hello Sleepy Hollow,

I have many suggestions for word problems.  However, there is one 
that I think is so important, that it is the only one that I will 
give. I mean it.  I think that this is the single most important 
thing that one can do to approach word problems.


Some problems need a drawing, some a table, and some both.

There is nothing that you can do that will better allow you to 
understand how to do word problems that to make a good relevant 

Let's think about an example:

Johnnie is having a party and she is buying apples for her guests.
She is having 26 friends at the party and she wants to have one 
apple per friend.  She has to buy bags of apples at the 
supermarket and six apples come in each bag.

How many bags does she need?

Maybe even without a drawing you could figure out that you need to 
divide 26 by 6 to get 4 remainder 2, but you may get confused with 
what to do with the remainder.  Maybe a drawing will help.

 *  *
*    *
*    *
******     That will be our drawing for a bag.

So to get 26 
(and this will help even if you didn't see to divide in the beginning)
we start counting bags.
(Even though from division we know we need four to begin with.)

  []         []         []         []
 *  *       *  *       *  *       *  *
* 6  *  +  * 6  *  +  * 6  *  +  * 6  *   So far we only have 24 apples 
*    *     *    *     *    *     *    *   so we need another bag.
******     ******     ******     ******

 *  *
* 6  *
*    *

So know that she needs to buy 5 bags.

This will not solve all your problems but that is my biggest and 
best hint: I hope that it helps.

-Doctor Ethan,  The Geometry Forum

Associated Topics:
Elementary Word Problems

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