Word problems

Are word problems a problem for your students? Mine too! I don’t know if I’ve solved the problem, but maybe identifying what the problem is is the first step to solving it.

Some examples:

  1. You ate 3 of the 8 slices of a pizza. You paid $3.30 as your share of the total cost of the pizza. How much did the whole pizza cost?

    Problem: “I hate fractions!”

  2. You are loading large pile of newspapers onto a truck. You divide the pile into four equal-zie bundles. One bundle weights 37 pounds. You want to know the weight x of the original pile. Write an equation which represents this situation. Solve this correct equation.

    Problem: Students in algebra are unaccustomed to (and uncomfortable with) thinking of equation themselves as answers. (To most 8th graders, the “answer” is the part on the right side of the equal sign.)

  3. You have one hour to make cookies for your school bake sale. You spend 24 minutes mixing the dough. It then takes 12 minutes to bake each tray of cookies. If you bake one tray at a time, write a model you can use to find how many trays you can bake during the hour.

    Problem: Students expect numbers within one problem to be presented in compatible units, rather than having to convert between minutes and hours.

  4. You live near a mountain bike trail. You can rent a mountain bike and a helmet for $10 an hour. If you have your own helmet, the bike rental is $7 an hour. You can buy a helmet for $28. How many hours do you need to use th trail to justify buying your own helmet?

    Problem: This problem is verbally beyond many 8th graders.

  5. The cross-country track team ran 8.7 kilometers in 42.5 minutes during their workout. Which equation could you use to find r, the team’s average running speed (in kilometers per minute)?

    Problem: Students are afraid of decimal numbers. Students are unfamiliar with kilometers.

  6. A video store charges $8 to rent a video game for five days. Membership to the video store is free. A video game club charges only $3 to rent a game for five days, but membership in the club is $50 per year. Compare the costs of the two rental plans.

    Problem: Students will have trouble with the apples-and-oranges comparison of the annual fee. Students will have to decode the meaning of “compare the costs.”



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