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Help Your 3rd Graders Solve Word Problems: Math Tips to Share

written by: Margo Dill • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 4/5/2012

What are some strategies a third grader can use to solve word problems? Don't let students become frustrated over these types of math problems. If they take their time, read carefully, and use strategies, they will be successfully solving problems in no time!

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    General word problem strategies

    Word problems are not easy. Here are some general guidelines for third graders when they are attempting a word problem. You can share these with your students or write them on a chart to hang in the room:

    1. Read the problem at least twice. While you are reading, create a mental picture in your head of the problem, just like if you were reading a book.
    2. Write down key information in a list form. For example, if the problem is asking you to figure out how much fence you need to put around a yard, then the key information you would need is: the length of the yard, the width of the yard, and the question: how much fence do you need?
    3. Compute the problem and find an answer.
    4. Check your work to make sure your computations are correct. You don't want the wrong answer to a word problem because of a miscalculation.
    5. Reread the word problem, and make sure your answer is sensible. If the problem is asking for how many cookies someone baked all together, and your answer is less than the number of cookies she baked on the first day, then the answer doesn't make sense.

    Successful math third grade activities start with these basic guidelines!

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    Draw a Picture

    One of the most common ways to solve word problems is to draw a picture of what the problem is asking. Pictures often make the problem easier to understand, and it makes these math third grade activities fun. Most children love to draw, so you can bring that love of drawing into math when solving word problems. The dilemma comes when the child doesn't know what to draw, he draws too much, or drawing a picture doesn't actually help solve the problem. You can work on the strategy with your students even though it seems simple to avoid those problems.

    Here are some type of word problems where drawing a picture might help students with math third grade activities:

    • Figuring perimeter of a shape
    • Dividing a group of objects among a certain number of people, containers, etc.
    • Adding or subtracting objects
    • Logic problems that order people/objects
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    Create a Table, Chart, or Graph

    When third grade students solve word problems, they may need to draw a table, chart, or graph to help solve the problem. For example, if the problem discusses a trend over a month's time, and the problem gives information about each week, then a line graph would help students organize the information and better see the trend. Some word problems will instruct students to draw a graph or chart to answer the problems, especially at the third grade level. As children become more adept at using strategies to solve word problems, they will not need these types of hints built into the problems and will know whether or not the problem requires a graph.

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    Work Backwards

    Some third grade word problems lend themselves to working backwards in order to solve them. When students solve word problems with this strategy, they will need to reread the problem a few times and take each sentence one at a time. For example:

    • Mike had five hamburgers leftover after the bar-be-que. His friends ate ten hamburgers. His mom took three hamburgers home to eat the next day. How many hamburgers did Mike make all together?

    Instead of starting with the total amount of hamburgers and subtracting to find out how many were left; this time, the third grader has to figure out the total amount from the pieces that the problem presents. He is "working backwards." To solve this problem, the student would take the leftovers and add the amount that was eaten. Then he would also add the three his mom took.

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    Guess and Check

    When students first hear this strategy is called "Guess and Check," they get excited and think what an easy way to solve word problems. But guess and check problems can be difficult if third graders don't have a good number sense. Here's an example of a typical guess and check problem:

    • Beth and Frank have twenty dollars total. Beth has four more dollars than Frank. What is the total amount each has?

    In this case, students would guess two numbers that equal twenty. The trick is that the numbers have to be four numbers apart. Students might try 9 + 11 = 20, but realize that 11 is only two more than 9. So, then they try 8 + 12 =20.

    When third graders are faced with word problems, they often feel anxiety and dread. But practicing different types and going over strategies can help them feel more comfortable and solve them with no difficulty!