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Why Numberless Word Problems Should be Part of Your Math Instruction

There are several methods for teaching word problems. One that really gets students to use their critical reasoning skills is numberless math problems.

Word problems are important parts of math homework and assessments. While necessary in math instruction, they are quite difficult to teach and frustrating for students to master. However, incorporating numberless word problems before students actually solve numeric equations is the key to unlock their understanding!

When students identify the thinking they need to solve the problem, they build confidence in their ability to solve the problem. That is when you reintroduce numbers to the problem. Using numberless word problems is just one method of teaching word problems. Learn more about solving word problems with your students

What are Numberless Word Problems?

Math is all about numbers, right? So what are these numberless word problems?

Numberless word problems focus on the structure of a problem. These problems temporarily remove numbers that are plugged in later.

When teaching math, it’s so important to have your students get the right answer to the problems you present. However, I am even more interested in the thinking they used to get there. That’s what the new math standards aligned with common core are all about!

Meta-cognitive tasks, like numberless word problems, take critical reasoning one step further. You are pushing students to slow down and really get at what they are being asked to do. They are also identifying the thinking process that leads to the desired result: the answer.

Why Numberless Word Problems?

Teachers differentiate the numbers for a variety of students.

Numberless word problems focus on the thinking process, so the numbers are differentiated for students based on age or even ability level. Increase the complexity as students are ready for more.

Substitute two or three digit numbers based on levels of your students. Encourage your advanced learners to form their own word problems based on the numberless word problems you present.

Teachers use numberless word problems all year long as your math program progresses.

Numberless word problems can be used throughout the entire school year. In addition, adjust the complexity and difficulty levels as your math program progresses. It will be great to see how much your students progress and to be able to see their thinking!

Teachers use numberless word problems to teach critical reasoning at the same time as building their academic vocabulary.

Building math vocabulary will help all students, but especially those who struggle with processing and comprehension.

Taking away the burden of solving the problem will help students focus on understanding what the problem is asking them to do and then identifying the steps to get there. Numberless word problems are all about being able to correctly identify the relationship between the numbers.

It’s important not to shy away from using academic vocabulary in your math instruction. In fact, if you’re consistent with how you talk about word problems, it will help students see the relationships between numbers on a much deeper level.

For example, I teach my students the three components of word problems: the start of the problem, the change in the problem, and the result of the problem.

Numberless Word Problems Provide Scaffolding

Word problems are understandably difficult for all types of learners; however, when the numbers are removed, it allows the individual student to focus on what is at the heart of the lesson, the thinking. As a teacher, you can use numberless word problems to scaffold your instruction to provide the necessary support students need, without sacrificing any of the critical thinking students need to do. You can start with basic mathematical reasoning and increase complexity as students grasp what thinking they need to do in order to solve the problem. Once they master that, you can then add numbers.

The main point of numberless word problems is to scaffold instruction. This allows students to understand the structure of word problems. It’s not about the numbers within the problem but about the teaching your students the context of the word problem to help them analyze and develop an understanding of how the problem works and is solved.

When students identify the thinking they need to solve the problem, they build confidence in their ability to solve the problem. That is when you reintroduce numbers to the problem.

Using numberless word problems is just one method of teaching word problems. Learn more about solving word problems with your students!

More Ideas for Teaching Students to Solve Word Problems

Why Numberless Word Problems Should be Part of Your Math Instruction


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