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Story Problems

How to Make Word Problems More Engaging for Students

Math, Story Problems
Photo of word problem projected on white board.

Word problems. Just the mention of those two words can make many students break into a cold sweat. These mathematical conundrums have long been a source of frustration and anxiety for learners of all ages. However, as educators, we have the power to transform these intimidating challenges into engaging opportunities for growth and learning.

Word problems are not only integral to mathematics education but also play a crucial role in developing critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and real-life application of mathematical concepts. Yet, all too often, they become a tedious exercise in plugging numbers into formulas, leaving students disenchanted and disconnected from the beauty of mathematics.

The good news is that there are practical strategies and creative approaches we can employ to make word problems more captivating and relevant to our students. By infusing excitement and relevance into these mathematical puzzles, we can foster a genuine interest in problem-solving, encourage active participation, and ultimately empower our students to become confident mathematical thinkers.

In this blog post, we will explore a variety of techniques and approaches to transform the way we present word problems to our students. From incorporating real-world contexts and relatable scenarios to leveraging collaborative learning, we will discover how to make word problems come alive in the classroom. So, let’s dive in and uncover the secrets to making word problems more engaging for our students. Together, we can turn these mathematical challenges into exciting adventures that inspire a lifelong love for learning.

Tip#1 – Use real-life examples

Use word problems that relate to real-life situations that students can relate to. This will help students see the practical applications of math and make it more interesting. I like to bring in real-world examples that fit students’ interests. I also like to bring in word problems from my own experience – at the grocery store, at a restaurant, trying to figure out how many stickers come in the pack, etc.

Tip #2 – Encourage group work

Photo of teacher standing and helping 4 students who are sitting.

Encourage students to work in groups to solve word problems together. This will allow them to discuss their ideas and work collaboratively, which can help them better understand the problem and come up with creative solutions.

Building Thinking Classrooms is a great example of collaborative group work and problem solving. You can learn more about it >>> HERE.

Tip #3 – Provide visual aids

Photo of Subtraction Strategies Anchor Chart.

Use visual aids such as diagrams, charts, and graphs to help students visualize the problem and better understand the concepts involved. I create a lot of math anchor charts with my students, which they can then refer back to during independent work and word problems. Visual aids are great to help students who might need a little assistance getting started or a reminder of strategies they know.

Tip #4 – Students share strategies

When it comes to solving word problems in math, students often employ a wide range of strategies. These strategies should be shared and celebrated in the classroom. By encouraging students to share their approaches, whether it’s using diagrams, creating equations, or employing mental math techniques, we can create a vibrant learning environment where students learn from each other, gain new perspectives, and build confidence in their problem-solving abilities.

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Strategies for Multiplying by Multiples of 10


One of the skills we cover in second grade (which I know is often a third grade skill) is multiplying by multiples of 10. This can off scare kids as you are using larger numbers, but I knew my kids could handle it. To make it a little less scary, I introduced it using a story problem. I put the problem below up on the board and read over it with the kids.

Then, I told the kids to solve it on their white boards at their seats. I didn’t give any prompting or suggestions, I wanted to see what they would come up with on their own.  Boy was I pleasantly surprised! They had amazing strategies! As you’ll see below they came up with multiple different ways to come to the answer.  They all understood it was equal groups and they used strategies we had talked about with multiplication – drawing out equal groups, skip counting, repeated addition, breaking apart numbers, etc. I was so proud of them. After giving them time to solve I had students bring their white board up to explain their strategies to the class.

This honestly was the best way I have ever introduced it. Instead of me telling them how to figure it out or only showing them the trick (8 x 3 = 24 so 8 x 30 = 240), they really took them time to try to figure it out for themselves. And it helped because on future problems they knew multiple strategies they could use to solve it.

See their awesome strategies below…