How To Tackle Math Story Problems

Ever wonder how to tackle math story problems? They can definitely be overwhelming for students, (and sometimes for me too!). These problems can be long, too “wordy”, give extra information you don't even need, and can be confusing. How do you even start tackling them? There are many strategies to solve math story problems, and finding the right one for your students may take some time. Here is what I do with my students, which can work for both elementary and middle school levels. Also be sure to check out the list of free resources below to practice with your students!

1. Read

Read the entire story problem. Seems like common sense right? Students may stop and try to think of how to do the problem before they even finish reading it. Read the whole problem first and take your time with it!

2. Key Words

Underline, highlight, or circle key information. If using a textbook, write out the key information on a sheet of paper.

3. Strategy

Choose a strategy to solve the problem. Sometimes your students may need to use more than one! Here are a few to try:

  • Draw a table or chart
  • Draw a picture
  • Use mental math
  • Use manipulatives like these
  • Guess and check
  • Use logical reasoning
  • Make a list
  • Work backwards
  • Look for a pattern
  • Write a number sentence or equation
  • Stand up and act it out

4. Calculate

Use the strategy (or strategies) to solve the problem. Encourage your students to show their work. It may seem to take longer that way, but in the long run it will be faster to check to see if anything went wrong along the way!

5. Check

Students should go back and check their work and answer. Does the answer make sense? Should it be a positive or negative answer? Does that answer seem too big, too small, or just right? Did they answer all the questions? Some story problems may have more than one part to them.


Here's a list of free resources to practice math story problems with your students:

Scholastic – try these Math Maven's Mysteries!

Math Worksheets 4 Kids – grades 1-8 practice worksheets

Math Playground – interactive story problems, how fun!

Thinking Blocks Apps – free apps from Math Playground

Math-Aids – practice worksheets for grades 3-5. (I especially love the words to symbols sheet, it's so helpful!)

Kid Zone – K-5 practice worksheets

IXL Word Problems – online practice for grades K-8

Math iTools – online manipulatives, so helpful!

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