How to Solve Word Problems

Posted by Tiara Swinson on February 27, 2018

Help kids solve word problems!As your child advances in school, they will come to a few stumbling blocks. There are some problems that prove difficult to a lot of students to understand. The most common issue is with word problems. Students struggle with seeing the math behind the words.




A proven step-by-step method for solving word problems is actually quite simple.

  • Read the problem out loud to yourself
  • Draw a Picture
  • Think “What do I need to find?”
  • List what is given
  • Find the key words
  • Solve
  • Check your work

Let’s put these steps into practice. Consider the word problem below.

Example: Kevin loves to read. He likes many different types of books. He has 3 large bookcases that each have 9 shelves on it all filled with his books. If each shelf can hold 16 books, how many books does Kevin have?

Read the Problem Out Loud

Kids have a tendency to rush through every problem. This is due to time limits on classwork and tests. If your child does not know what the problem is asking, then they cannot solve the problem. When your child reads the problem aloud, they are saying and hearing the problem. They can form a clearer picture in their head of the problem and they are more prepared to solve it.

Draw a Picture

Students need to visualize a problem to understand it, especially younger students. As they get older, they can start to visualize in their head but at a young age they should be drawing out a picture that explains to them what the problem is about. The picture should take into account all of the aspects of the problem.

Draw a picture to visualize the problem

Ask “What Do I Need to Find?”

Some word problems are straight forward with their questions. It can be as simple as “Molly has two dogs, Jason has three. How many dogs do Molly and Jason have together?” This one, however, we have to think about. There is more than one step for this problem. We first have to find how many shelves he has and then find out how many books are on all of the shelves to know how many books he has altogether.

List What is Given

It is always good to start with listing the things you know. If you try to solve the problem without knowing what tools you are given to solve it, you will not get the right answer. Think about the last time you tried to fill in the blanks or assume an answer without knowing all the facts. Your outcome probably did not turn out well. It is for this reason that we need to list what is given before any problem. The student should write it down at the top or side of the scrap paper so they always have it as a reference when doing the problem. For this problem, my list of what is given would be:

  • Kevin has 3 book cases
  • Each book case has 9 shelves
  • Each shelve holds 16 books

Find the Key Words

Every word problem has key words to look out for that tell you what operation to do. As your child gets more practice with word problems, finding the key words will get easier. Here are some of the most popular key words for word problems:


Key Words


“all together”, “both”, “combined”, “total”* “additional”


“decrease”, “difference”, “fewer”, “how many more”,  “how much greater”, “have left”, “remain”


“doubled/tripled”, “each” “equal groups” “in al”, “of”, “per”


“equal parts” “split between” “separated”, “percent”

*this can be a key word for addition and multiplication


According to the chart above, we should use multiplication. First, we should multiply the number of shelves per case by the number of cases. 9 shelves per case x 3 book cases = 27 shelves. Next, we must multiply the number of books per shelf by the number of shelves. 27 shelves x 16 books per shelf = 432 books.

Check your answer

The last step of course is to check your work by seeing if the answer fits the question asked. Mathematically, we can check our work by doing the opposite of whatever operation we used. So for this problem, we can divide 432 by 16 and we will get 27, then divide 27 by 3 and get 9.

As challenging as word problems can be for children, having them follow these simple 7 steps will help them better understand word problems and see beyond the complicated words. Soon enough, world problems will not be so troubling for them after all and they will grow to become more confident, eager learners.

Topics: Math, Child Education, Math Skills, Parenting Tips, Child Anxiety, Math Anxiety, Word Problems

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