Personally, I think that 3rd-grade is the biggest transition for students math-wise. Solving two-step word problems in 3rd-grade is the perfect example of this difficult transition. Below I share with you my helpful tips for writing two-step word problems.
I have taught grades 2-8 math, so I am speaking from experience when I share this opinion. Many of my students struggled with the transition from 2nd-grade to 3rd-grade. My own daughter spent many nights crying in 3rd-grade. Sadly, I won't go into the upsetting details, this was due to her math teacher every time (this was before I became a math teacher so I was not able to truly understand what was wrong).
Third-grade is when, as teachers, we should start preparing our students for algebraic expressions and equations and more algebra in the future. THIS IS A DIFFICULT JUMP! If students miss this strong algebra base, they tend to struggle unless there is intervention.
With two-step word problems, we are not only prepping students for algebraic expressions and equations, but also order of operations. Two-step word problems vary in difficulty and in some cases require students to use a variable.
If you follow the CCSS, which my state does, the objective states, "Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity." I have honestly had feedback that this was too difficult, but this is exactly what the standard is requesting! Yes, I understand, variables are for Algebra 1!
They are not just for Algebra 1, though. Every time we ask a student to find the missing factor, they are using this skill. For example, 5 x ? = 25. Truly, it is the same skill.
Make the Two-Step Word Problems Relate-able
Consequently, if you haven't realized this already, students like things they can relate to. Whether it is something in the problem, or the way we deliver the problem to them. Obviously, there is more to teaching two-step word problems than "an engagingly written problem". BUT this is an area I would like teachers to start with.
I listen to a podcast for my personal business. On this podcast, the host stresses what would catch his attention if you were trying to target him with a Facebook ad. He loves a specific football team and talks about them on every episode. His point is that if you were to get him to look at your ad, all you would have to do is fit this football team into the equation some how. For example, even if you are selling dental services, he will probably switch dentists because he loves his football team that much.
What does that mean for students? Each one of your students have something similar to podcasters love for his favorite football team. If you were to write a two-step word problem that was centered around your school's football team, basketball team, etc... it would resonate with some of your students.
Maybe you could write a problem about a field trip you have taken or a special guest that has visited your school.
Like I said above, if students can relate to the problem... put themselves in the equations... they are more likely to comprehend the objective without even realizing what a difficult problem they have just solved.
A Helpful Math Strategy for Solving Two-Step Word Problems
When teaching students to solve word problems, my "go-to" is the CUBES math strategy.
I have another blog post about this strategy if you would like to read further.
The CUBES math strategy helps students "break-down" the word problem in bite-size chunks. It is a fabulous method, and I highly recommend further research of this strategy!
In Conclusion, A Nutshell Review
In conclusion, here is a run down of my helpful tips for writing two-step word problems:
- Understand the standards before you write
- Make the problems relate-able to your students' experiences
- Find a way to get your students excited about what is in the problems.
- Remember the CUBES math strategy (or a similar strategy) while writing
Creative Two-Step Word Problem Task Cards for 3rd-Grade
In the case that you do not wish to write your own two-step word problems, I have created these task cards to use in math centers, math rotations, etc... The names in the task cards are either from my pets or my family. That is a fun tidbit to share with your students.
The task cards are shaped like phones and SUPER easy to prep.
I NEED THESE TASK CARDS! SEND ME THERE NOW!
You may also like this blog post.
These CUBES math strategy flip books pair perfectly with the two-step word problem task cards.
CUBES math strategy is my favorite strategy to use with math word problems. It truly helps students break the problems down.
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