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Strategies to Teach Word Problems to Visual Learners

written by: Deidra Alexander • edited by: Jonathan Wylie • updated: 8/31/2015

As a teacher, you are familiar with the various learning styles of the students in your math class. Those students who are visual learners, may have a hard time grasping word problems. Use these strategies to visually represent word problems and reach all of your students.

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    Seeing Word Problems Visually

    Figuring Out Word Problems Other than algebraic expressions and fractions, word problems are the most dreaded and feared math subject for most students. It is bad enough to have work with math in numbers, but to have to manipulate figures by converting words to numbers and symbols can be like torture.

    Unfortunately, avoiding word problems is less than likely to happen, and this makes the issues that many of us have with word problems seem insurmountable, when in reality they are not. The issue is not really the word problems themselves; it is how the student goes about solving them. Instead of pledging to grin, bear it, get creative and teach your students how to solve word problems visually.

    Naturally, visual learners have qualities that many teachers favor: Neatness, good organizational skills, and a creative side. On the other hand, they usually do not take notes very well and will do better with remembering information featured in pictures. Spelling tests are an easy task with this type of learner but do not expect them to do so well with verbal information. If you have a visual learner in your class, or suspect you do, you will quickly learn that they have a good memory for faces. These are all great attributes for a student to have but we don't always know what will work best for them in math, so let's talk about what will and what won't.

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    Given Them Illustrations

    Illustrations such as graphs, shapes, and drawings can be used to represent key components of word problems, by removing all of the Word Problem 1 excess language from the story. The student is less likely to feel bogged down with more focus for an easier time working through the problem and solving it.

    Warning: Text slideshows are not considered visual aids, as reading is considered an auditory process. Text will be included in many cases, but extensions of the main points of the lesson through visual representation are the main goal here, as seen the following pictures.

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    The KNWS-Know, Not, What, Strategy

    Putting a spin on the common KWL graphic organizer, KNWS helps the student sort through the story problem to determine “what Word Problem 2 they know already, what is not relevant, what they want to find out from the problem, and what strategy to use to ascertain information from it. Use a downloadable document from the Ohio resource Center on the KNWS strategy for students to empower them to use their visual learning style strengths in math.

    Go Solve® Word Problems Graphic Organizers

    The graphic organizers by Go Solve® are part of a software program that students use to break down mathematical stories and learn to find the plot of the story. This software teaches users how to solve Low level to advanced math operations through word problems by covering 9 possible math situations contained in three modules. Go Solve® is indented for students performing at grade level from grades 3 to 6 and for students performing below their grade level at grade 8. Students make sense of the story using adaptable graphic organizers.

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    Translating and Highlighting

    Knowing which keywords to center student attention on to solve story problems will prove to be a helpful ability for the visual learner. You can easily teach this strategy in a short amount of time. Create a grid on the board that students will have to copy into a notebook for important math notes. Then, break the grid down into operation categories, (add, subtract, divide, multiply), and list words that signify which operation to perform under each heading. When you are done with your list, have students place a word problem on the same page where they will translate it to solve it as an example.

    Let them highlight the operation words and break the story down into chunks of important information as done in this example: “Math Word Problems: Taking Tests!"

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    Choosing a Strategy

    Use whichever strategy works best for the visual learners you are teaching, mindfully choosing techniques that highlight their visual learning style strengths the most. Do not be afraid to let your visually enthused student doodle or create their own drawings to help them with story problems.

    Bonus Tip!

    Always try to relate your stories to real-life as much as possible, as this is the main purpose of story problems - to teach students how to solve life’s many problems and situations from the smallest to the most complex. Do this by rewriting stories using names of other students, events that are current in the student’s life, or events that are more likely to occur based on their lifestyle. Using this tip may require stepping away from the textbook, but this is a necessary leap, in some cases, to reach students who may need more than what publishers are offering.

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