Solving Single-Step Word Problems

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Mathematics, Problem Solving

Grade 3- 5


Students use a five-step plan and secret code words to solve single-step word problems.


In this activity, students will learn to apply basic math computational skills in word problem formats and with real-life applications.
Introduce students to the five-step plan to solve single-step word problems:

Step 1: Read the problem carefully. Check the meaning of unknown words. Read the problem in parts. Use periods and commas as a guide.
Step 2: State the problem to be solved. Restate the problem in your own words. Use the fewest possible words to describe what you have to find out.
Step 3: Determine the operation to be used. There are only four operations: addition, subtraction, multipication, and division. Choose the most likely operation using the clues you have found. (See the secret code words.)
Step 4: Do the operation. Check to see that you made no careless errors and that your work is accurate.
Step 5: Check the answer to see if it is reasonable. Compare your answer to the original problem to see if it makes sense.
Students should use the secret code words to help them select the correct operation.
Addition Secret Code Words: altogether, in all, sum, perimeter, entire cost, total, total cost
Subtraction Secret Code Words: change, how much more, difference, how much less, how many fewer, minus, how much left, how much saved, how much taller
Multiplication Secret Code Words: times, compute the area, product, find the volume, percent, of (fractions), percent of discount, percent of tax, times as many as
Division Secret Code Words: split evenly, divided by, quotient, find the average, shooting percentage, shared evenly
Go over the following example with students:
Problem: Your mother had $100.00 when she went to the mall. She had $39.47 when she left the mall. How much money did your mother spend at the mall.
Ask students the following questions:
What do you need to find out in this problem? (how much money was spent)
What is the most likely operation to try? (subtraction--because money was spent or taken away)
Do you know how to do the operation? (line up the numbers with the larger number on top and subtract by borrowing)
Does your answer make sense when you read over the problem? (yes, because $39.47 and $60.53 equal $100.00)
Distribute copies of the Making Sense of the Answer activity sheets to students and have them try some problems on their own.


  • Making Sense of the Answer activity sheet (one per student)
  • pencils

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