4th Grade Math : Unit #12 - Addition and Subtraction Word Problems : Lesson #2

Writing a Simple Word Problem From Scratch by Using Strategies Learned

Objective: SWBAT independently write a clear, logical, solvable word problem.
Standards: 4.OA.A.3 MP1 MP2
Subject(s): Math
60 minutes
1 Modeling the Writing/Teacher Think & Write Aloud - 20 minutes

 I love to teach writing using Think- Alouds! The first time I saw a think aloud modeled for writing, I immediately wanted to adopt it as part of my practice. Modeling like this connects students to the task and helps them believe they can try it and succeed. This supports MP 1 & 2 by teaching them to logically and systematically write and solve their own word problems. 

We begin: I wanted to quickly assess if they could recall some strategies they have been taught about solving word problems. I asked what kind of strategies they thought I would use to write a story problem. This is what they came up with: Listing Strategies they Remember  We created a list of the strategies they had learned in the last lesson! I was totally caught off guard and so very pleased to see that they could remember. I think those strategies help them feel that they have control and give them a sense of confidence.

Next I started the Think Aloud.  

I told my students that I was going to let them inside my mind as I thought through writing my word problem. I chose numbers to start with and thought out loud about how I would use those numbers to fit a situation. I began writing on the SB while talking out the thoughts in my mind. They sat quietly and listened and did not interrupt even though a few were tempted! I read my word problem aloud and asked the, "Does my problem make sense?" I solved it in front of them and checked back over my work, helping them see that I needed to read it for errors and edit. I fixed the errors in front of them, allowing them to see that I can make mistakes in my writing and that all writing needs editing! I used strategies we had listed and talked about the logic behind each of the strategies as I used reasoning and demonstrated the usefulness of what I was doing.



I hate word problems! So why should I write one?

I remember when I was a kid, crying over word problems. 

I remember feeling stupid, frustrated and ready to give up on math altogether because having difficulty with separating the language and figuring out how to make it fit. CCSS MP1 expect us to provide ways for children to understand and "persevere" in solving problems. CCSS MP2 explains that students need to be able to "decontextualize" and realize the relationship in problem solving. I think writing story problems from scratch is one way of mastering these skills and deepening their understanding that math word problems are really "real life" math problems.

I had a revelation when I was teaching  the strategies of KWS, Math Mountains (or sometimes called "break apart sketches" ) that it would be good to use those same strategies as the framework to teach story problem writing. It used to be that I focused on teaching them how to write math questions first. This time, I am turning it around and seeing how it works in hopes that students have a better grasp on understanding the role of the equation in a word problem too. This is the first time I am trying it! So why make students write simple one step word problems now? It is my hope to strengthen their understanding of deciphering and solving word problems which in turn will help them to understand and master multi-step word problems later. It also gives them accountability for thinking about how word problems are structured; a situation and then a question that drives at solving the situation.

2 Visuals of Classroom Practice - 25 minutes

Classroom Practice: I told them that they needed to create their story problem in their math journal first and then have a conference with me for approval.

To support them, I wrote two numbers on the board that they could choose to use which eliminated time for those who had trouble coming up with their own numbers. I explained that their word problem numbers had to make sense. I reminded them that I had chosen a larger number in my word problem. I chose a population to talk about because those numbers would fit and make sense in my word problem. And, I chose something I know about. Was my problem believable?

The majority of students chose to think up numbers on their own.  As they worked, I roved the classroom, visiting each student, keeping close watch on those students who struggle with language. It was amazing to me to see how well this was working and how quickly they were producing word problems that made sense. I did not hear, as I have in the past, "I don't know what to write about or how to do it!" No one had a blank journal. It is my hope that this focus today on MP1& 2 helps fulfill the foundational practice in order to master tougher standards about multi-step word problems later.

I noticed it took most about 20 minutes for students finish. I planned on 30-45!

A peek into the classroom: Here's a look at what I was seeing.

This little boy was easily able to write a problem without the KWS chart, because he copied my story problem down in his book. What do I do next?

Missing the Question When my students verbalize what they need to do next, it really helps! Editing for important details. Reading work aloud really helps my students edit their work. Student discovering that situation equations and solution equations can be the same thing.Sometimes distinguishing what a situation in a problem is and then finding the equation to solve it is confusing. But, in this case, they are the same thing!







3 Assignment - 15 minutes

Once students met my expectations in their journals by looking again at the task assignment and editing their work, they were allowed to create a presentation using the Educreations ap.

I assigned this for homework because we can take our iPads home.  Some of my students were able to finish in class. Others took it home. We will share our Educreations lessons over the next few days in class. Through this sharing, I can reinforce skills needed to master 4.OA.A.3 Multi-step word problems, as well as practicing MP 1 & 2 and 4.NBT.B.4

 I closed with students simply sharing how they felt before and after the lesson. I asked the question: Are you more comfortable writing word problems now? Why or why not?

Students shared that they were happy about being able to think up their own word problems. One student mentioned that he hated word problems because he didn't understand them. He said that if he could write his own, he could "make up stuff he could understand and practice his math that way."


Making math a personal experience.

Glad I took the risk and changed my teaching!

Becoming aware of Math Practice Standards in this transition to Common Core has changed my approach to teaching only because it makes me aware of the many things we do as teachers of mathematics that support student understanding and development. Math Practice Standards 1 & 2 turn up in almost every lesson we teach, but to acknowledge formally that it is what I am doing, gives me meaningful  foundations for my rationale. This story problem writing lesson extends their thinking and helps them internalize these standards more deeply than just reading and solving from a text book.