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Five Step Plan For Solving Math Word Problems
One of the most dreaded assignments students have in math is solving word problems. If ever a student missed a question on an exam, you can be sure it would be a word problem. This is partly because the student often struggles to decide what steps to take to analyze and understand the problem.
Regardless of math level, I have found the following method to be very effective in solving word problems. I call it the five-step plan. As a high school math teacher, I insisted that my students use this five-step plan for solving word problems. When grading their homework or correcting an exam, I would award five points for a word problem. If students simply gave me the correct answer without following the five-step plan, they would only receive one point for their answer. Students who followed the five-step plan could score up to four out of five marks, even if they answered the problem incorrectly.
What is this plan for solving math word problems? Here is a chart that I would put on the board when teaching this strategy to my students.
a)? b) X = c) Equation d) Find x. e) Answer part a).
Part a): Students should write what they want you to find in the problem word. Usually this is in the sentence containing the question mark. If the question was formulated in the form of a command, for example, “Find the number”. This would become the question to write in part a).
Part b): In part b), the students had to list the information given to them and assign a variable to the unknown items. This section would include a list of items and one of them would be equal to x.
Part c): Part c) is the algebraic equation that is needed to solve x. Writing the correct equation was often the most difficult part of this exercise, but with practice the students became more adept at identifying the equation to use. Often, all the student had to do was translate an English sentence into a mathematical sentence. The verb in an English sentence is equivalent to the equal sign in an equation. The left side of the equation comes from all the words in the sentence that appear before the verb. I would ask students to write this information down first and then put the equals sign. All the words in the sentence after the verb have been transcribed into an algebraic expression and placed on the right side of the equation.
Part d): Students would then use the equation they constructed in part c) and solve the equation for x. This part of the plan asks students to know how to solve various types of equations.
Part e): Using the value of x they found in part d), students then used this information to answer the question posed in part a). Often, finding the value of x is not the answer to the word problem. Students should check with part b) to see what the x represents and then use it to answer the question. Students had to write part e) in a complete sentence.
Here is an example of a pre-algebra level word problem using the five-step plan.
Example: A number multiplied by six is four more than four times the number. Find the number.
Answer: a) Find the number. b) Let x = the number c) 6x = 4x + 4 d) 2x = 4
x = 2 e) The number is 2.
Here is another example.
The sum of three consecutive even numbers is 36. What is the second number?
Answer: a) What is the second consecutive even number? b) 1st number = x
2nd number = x + 2
3rd number = x + 4 c) x + x + 2 + x + 4 = 36 d) 3x + 6 = 36
3x = 30
x = 10 e) The second number is 12.
Regardless of math level – pre-algebra, algebra I, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus, trigonometry or statistics, using the five-step plan helps students discover exactly what information is given and what they must find in order. to answer a word problem. Often using a diagram can help identify the variables needed in part b). Once part b) is written down on paper, writing the equation becomes much easier and students can use their equation-solving skills to find the answer to the word problem.
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