Categorized under: SUMS

Key Words for Solving Story Problems

Solving word problems is one of the most difficult concepts students face in mathematics. Many times students get lost in all of the jargon (words). We need to give them tools to tackle word problems effectively. Some great strategies that I have learned throughout my experience are:

  • Tell students to take a step-by-step approach. Using acronyms or acrostic poems help students remember what steps to follow.

Red Caterpillars Sleep in Cocoons” is one of my favorites. Each beginning letter represents a step to take when tackling the problem.

R – read and reread the problem

C – circle important information (see highlighting below)

S – solve, using the appropriate operation

C – check your work using the inverse operation.

  • Equip students with the knowledge of the “key words” used to indicate which operation to use in solving.
    • This can be done through several different methods:
      • Create a poster in class of each operation and record key words and phrases as you come across them in your instruction. Check out this list!
      • Have students create a graphic organizer of all of the words in their math journal or notebook.
      • Play vocabulary games with students using key words.
        • Flash cards
        • Memory ( words  to match the symbols)
        • Crossword puzzles
        • Vocabulary Webs
        • Word Scavenger Hunts
  • Highlighting is another great strategy to teach your students. You may want to start with a highlighter so students see the words better, then teach them to use their pencil. Encourage students to mark on their assessments as well.
  • Names in word problems can be a real hassle for students. We need to share with them with the same strategies we use in reading: “Put your own name in the problem.” or “Just say the first letter of the name.”

Here is just a few ways to help your students tackle word problems with ease. If you have  any further suggestions, please make sure to leave a comment below.


  1. Thank you for sharing your math coaching tools. I have a job as a math coach at a reservation school in Arizona and there is nothing in place. Your generosity has really helped me.

    Randy Fuller

    Randy Fuller
    December 17th, 2010

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About Me

Tina Cordova has been a classroom teacher since 2002; where she developed a love for all subjects especially mathematics.  She currently serves as a Math Coach at Pine Grove Elementary in Hernando County, FL working with the SUMS Math Program.