Word problems can always be tricky to teach and tricky for kids to understand. In the beginning of my teaching career, I focused so much on key words and strategies that told my students to underline the problem and box key words. As the years went on, I realized that even when my students are doing all of “the parts” of the word problem strategy that I am asking them to do, they aren’t actually understanding how to attack the word problem independently.

I wanted my kids to focus more on what is actually happening in the word problem so insert numberless word problems. When I first learned about numberless word problems, my first thought (if I am being completely honest) was, “How in the world would that actually help them understand if there’s no numbers?” As time went on and I learned more about the importance of taking the numbers away, the more I learned how this actually helps deepen students understanding of the word problem.

Let’s take a peek at what I do!

First thing I will do is display the numberless word problem on the Smartboard. Students will have a graphic organizer in front of them.

When this first is displayed I will read the word problem and ask students what they are picturing in their minds as I read the story. Students will record some thoughts/pictures/notes onto their graphic organizer.

I will now ask students about what information do we have now? (George=32 fish) What information are we missing? (How many more he bought) Students are recording this onto their graphic organizers as we are working through the problem.

I will now ask students about what information do we have now? (bought 18 more fish) What question could we be asking? Students may say how many fish does he have in all? We want students to start understanding that when you have some and you got some more, you will have a bigger amount than you started with. Students are recording this onto their graphic organizers as we are working through the problem.

I will now ask students about what operation we will use to solve the problem. It takes time but students will start to understand that they are looking for the total. They will see that they have a part, and got another part, which will help us to find the total. Students are recording this onto their graphic organizers and once the operation is determined, they will solve the problem using pictures, numbers, and/or words.

I will use these numberless word problems as a warm up as a whole group or even in small groups. As time goes on and students feel comfortable with this, they can do it independently or with a partner!

Do you use numberless word problems in the classroom? Let me know if you have any comments or questions about this!