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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 a student skips a question on an exam, you can be sure it will be a word problem. Part of the reason for this is that the student often has difficulty deciding what steps to take to analyze and understand what the problem is.
Regardless of the math level, I have found the following method to be very successful when solving word problems. I call it the Five Step Plan. As a high school math teacher, I have forced my students to use this Five-Step Plan to solve word problems. When I graded their homework or when they marked an exam paper, I gave them five points for a word problem. If students just give me the correct answer without following the Five Step Plan, they will only get one point for their answer. Students who followed the Five Plan would probably get four out of five points, even if they got the answer wrong on the problem.
What is this strategy for solving math word problems? Here is a chart that I will put on the board when I teach this strategy to my students.
Five Step Plan
a)? b) X = c) Equation d) Find x. e) Answer part a).
Part a): Students should write down what they are asked to find in the word problem. Usually this can be found in a sentence with a question mark. If the query was expressed as a command, for example, ‘Find a number.’ That will be the question to be written in part a).
Part b): In part b) students had to list what information they were given and give a variable for the unknowns. Included in this section is a list of elements and one of them will be equal to x.
Part c): Part c) is the algebraic equation that needs to be solved for x. Writing the correct equation was often the hardest part of the exercise, but with practice, students got better at identifying the equation to use. Often the student had to translate an English sentence into a mathematical sentence. A verb in an English sentence is equivalent to an equal sign in an equation. The left side of the equation comes from all the words in the sentence that come before the verb. I would instruct the students to write that information down first and put an equal sign. All words in the sentence after the verb are copied from the algebraic expression and placed on the right side of the equation.
Part d): Students will use the equation they created in part c) and solve the equation for x. This part of the strategy requires students to know how to solve a variety of equations.
Part e): Using the value of x they found in part d), students used that information to answer the question asked in part a). Finding the constant value of x is not the answer to the word problem. Students should look at part b) to see what x stood for and use it to answer the question. Students had to write part e) in a complete sentence.
Here is an example of a pre-algebra word problem using the Five-Step Plan.
Example: A number multiplied by six is four times that number. Find the number.
Answer: a) Find the number. b) Let x = number c) 6x = 4x + 4 d) 2x = 4
x = 2 e) The number is 2.
Here is another example.
The sum of three consecutive numbers is 36. What is the second number?
Answer: a) What is the second consecutive number? b) Number of 1 = x
The number 2 = x + 2
Third number = x + 4 c) x + x + 2 + x + 4 = 36 d) 3x + 6 = 36
3x = 30
x = 10 e) The second number is 12.
No matter what level of math – pre-algebra, algebra I, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus, trigonometry, or statistics, using the Five-Step Plan helps students figure out exactly what information is given and what they need to find to answer a word problem. Often using a diagram can help identify the variables needed in part b). Once part b) is down on the 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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