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Q&A #19283


Mathematics language and word problems

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From: Claire (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: Jan 28, 2008 at 10:02:02
Subject: Re: Mathematics language and word problems

Hi, Daniel --

Thanks for writing to T2T. We get a lot of questions about how to teach
students to solve word problems.

You're right about the idea of understanding the problem being critical.
Children need to use math language themselves, both spoken and written, if it
is to become their own. Students have often had math spoken to them, but not
had sufficient opportunities to use it themselves.

Are the problems presented in written form? Do the students have the same
difficulty when is is read aloud to them? Sometimes when your goal is to help
children learn the math, you may need to do whatever you can to eliminate
reading issues.

Ask students to paraphrase the problem -- retell it in their own words.
Have them tell what the important information is in the problem. Make sure
they can articulate what they are supposed to be solving.

You certainly need to address the vocabulary issue, but I strongly believe
it's best to teach it in the context of a problem. That's what gives it
meaning. There is not much evidence that teaching isolated vocabulary out of
context does much good in any subject area. I believe the research also shows
that people need multiple exposures to a word in a variety of contexts before
they really internalize its meaning. Make sure you are using and reinforcing
the new vocabulary at every opportunity, and recognizing students' use of it.

Are you familiar with the idea of a word wall? As new vocabulary gets
introduced a new card with the term is added to a special place on your wall.
You might have students create the cards and decorate them with visual
associations. They are always visible for students to look at when they are
trying to understand a problem being presented, or when they are
speaking/writing math. Here is a page with lots of resources on word walls.
http://www.education-world.com/a_lesson/lesson/lesson328b.shtml

Here are some other general suggestions to help students with word problems:
Get them to draw the pictures to illustrate the problem.
Have them get actively involved in modeling the problem, acting it out,
modeling it with manipulatives.
After you model examples, have them make up some problems that require the
skills and concepts you've been working on. You'll learn a lot about what
they understand!

I hope this is helpful. Please write again if you have more questions.

 -Claire, for the T2T service

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