Writing Word Problem Equations – Help!

Please help me make this lesson better.  The main problem was that the students did not get to practice enough problems (the rotation and the checking slowed us down).

My students need help writing equations for word problems.  Most often, they read the problem and scratch out an answer – with nary an equation in site!  To help fix this, I wanted to practice writing equations to simple, one and two step equation word problems.  I did not want it to be boring AND I wanted students to work together.  With the help of the wonderful Twitterverse, I decided to do a “Pass the Problem” activity.  (Thanks so much to @wahedahbug, @approx_normal, and @cgramatges for the idea and inspiration!)

Each student received their own answer sheet to record their work.  Each partner group received a word problem and a small answer sheet that went with the word problem.

For each problem, the students had to do the work individually on their own answer sheet, compare their answer with their partner, come up with the best joint answer, and then write that answer on the small answer sheet.  We did one step at a time, and then passed the word problem with it’s answer sheet, to the next pair of partners.  The steps were

  1. Define the variable
  2. Write an equation
  3. Solve the problem
  4. Write the solution in words to see if it makes sense.

I had color coded word problems (by level of difficulty) and used my table top dry erase frames to put them in.  This made reading the problem and passing it easier.  Also, at each step the new partners checked the past work, and made corrections when a problem was incorrect (as well as noting it on the sheet).

I liked the thought of this idea.  But, all of the passing seemed confusing.  I also felt that the students did not receive “closure” with any one problem.  And, we only were able to get through three sets of word problems, so I don’t think that the students got enough practice.  Plus, it was too “teacher directed” and high maintenance.  I like it when the activity runs itself so I am more available to walk around and help students.  I would love to make this activity better.  Help!

8 thoughts on “Writing Word Problem Equations – Help!

  1. I love this idea! I might suggest that instead of passing around all those materials, that you make stations to which the student pairs will travel. Perhaps, would it work to have a similar problem diagrammed so the students could see how to model this process? I know what you mean about this issue of the students not knowing how to translate word problems into equations.

  2. I love group work more than anything, but sometimes it’s just not appropriate due to nature of problem and time constraints. If I understand you correctly, then passing the problem to next pair of students after each step seems too disruptive to the thinking process. They get into it only having to leave it again. Yet, they may feel rushed (on their own) as they want to keep proceeding to keep pace with others.

    The form itself could really use a last prompt like, “checking your answer” or “is your answer reasonable?” or “put your answer into problem, does it fit?”

    It’s critical, I think, that kids get individual quiet think time before they get into groups, even with just one other person. I know personally I can’t think when others are talking, so I need time to self first.

  3. We did something like this with indirect measure. But it was groups of 3 or 4 & the paper got passed around. You could have enough kids/steps that the problem came back to the original starter so they could have some closure. The way we did it, 1st student drew a picture, 2nd student checked the picture/numbers & then set up the ratio, 3rd student checked picture, ratio & then solved. Any errors were supposed to be fixed along the way. Then the students discussed any mistakes or discrepancies. Maybe you could modify to work with these word problems.

  4. It’s hard to force kids to “write and solve” one step equations because, in reality they have been solving problems like that since first grade – but just choosing the operation necessary to solve the problem. I like to give students a sentence about a relationship that doesn’t yet include a question. For instance: Bob is 25 years older than his son John. Write an equation to show this relationship. They can either write J + 25 = B or B – 25 = J. (Probably the first from is more common, but in other relationships it might be a toss up.) THEN follow it up with “Use your equation to answer this question.” The questions can either be, “Bob is 40 years old, how old is his son, John?” or “John is 12 years old, how old is his dad, Bob?” With either equation they wrote, they would have to “solve” to answer be of the questions.

    You could still do the “pass around” since the first step would be writing the equation to show the relationship and then the next person would have to use it to answer one of the questions.

    • Oh! That’s a brilliant thought! And it explains why they are concerned w writing algebraic expressions correctly but don’t care about equations. My thought was to have them write equations they could easily solve, but I like your idea much better! Redesign in the works!

  5. Not sure how to fix the group work issues. I’ve witnessed another teacher try something like this – there was just some chaos as students were looking for the missing problems.

    I’m wondering if you could add a model piece to the answer sheet. Have students draw rectangles to represent the different values and show their relationships (singapore math style?). For the used book problem, a student could draw two rectangles (side-by-side), one representing the used book and one representing the new book. From the wording, students should realize that the used book should be cheaper than the new book, and therefore, should have a smaller rectangle. Another rectangle could be drawn next to the used book price which would represent the difference of 17. With the two sets of rectangles side by side, students should see that 9 + 17 = n.

    Incidentally, I used to get annoyed when students would write this as a solution (variable isolated on one side). I wanted them to get 9 = n – 17 as an answer. But that’s obviously never been that intuitive for the kids.

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