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Teaching Math Word Problem Key Words (Free Cheat Sheet)

By Jeannette Tuionetoa on November 20, 2023

Tackling word problems in math can be challenging for kids to learn. We called them story problems when I was in school. If your kids are learning math key words so they can solve word problems, they you’ll find these free cheat sheets and worksheets for word problem key words helpful. 

Math Word Problem Keywords free cheat sheets graphing paper with a circle and text overlay

Math Word Problem Key Words

There is no doubt that mathematical operations using words are difficult for kids. They go from counting numbers to doing math equations with numbers.

Then all of a sudden… there are words, just words . All of a sudden algebraic expressions and mathematical operations are POOF – words.

The lack of numbers and shift in mindset can completely throw off a lot of students. If kids have difficulty with reading, then that is yet another struggle for kids as they try to learn basic problems in math.

Teaching students about challenging math keywords just got easier! Be sure to download our free math key words cheat sheet at the end of this post. 

Why do some kids struggle with word problems?

A key proponent in different operations in math is learning the key words that prompt kids to understand which operation skill they need to use to solve the problem.

This means that they should master regular math problems first and be able to read with comprehension. You will shortly find that if these two skills aren’t somewhat mastered first, then word problems will become an issue.

Many times math is a subject best taught in sequential order. If one step is missed, then the future steps falter. This is much like how it is when teaching word problems.

The best thing for your children is for them to first:

  • Be able to read well.
  • Understand math concepts and phrases.
  • Know to not rush, but focus on math key words, identify relevant information, and understand the text.
  • Get to know the keywords for math word problems

What are keywords for math word problems?

Key words in mathematical word operations are the words or phrases that will signal or show a student which type of math operation to choose in order to solve the math word problem.

The keywords for math word problems used in operations are a strategy that helps the math problem make sense and draw connections to how it can be answered.

Basically, when using key words, students must decipher whether they need to solve the math equation via addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division.

What are the common keywords for math word problems?

Thankfully, there are math key words that our children can learn that help them work through their word problems. They are prompts that point them in the right direction.

Just like a different language needs words translated for comprehension, students translate the words… into math .

Keywords for Math Word Problems

Learning these math keywords will help with problem solving:

Addition Math Key Words:

  • increased by
  • larger than
  • in addition to
  • how much in all

Subtraction Math Key Words:

  • how many more
  • how many less
  • shorter than
  • smaller than

Key Words for Multiplication Word Problems:

  • multiplied by
  • double/twice

Key Words used for Division Word Problems:

  • equal group
  • how many in each

You can print off a free math key words cheat sheet that has the above math key words for word problems and add it to your homeschool binder . Find the download link at the bottom of this post. 

How can we help kids learn keywords for solving numberless word problems?

Teach kids steps for solving word problems until it becomes a habit or they get comfortable with the steps. First, they can look for the important information and write those down. (Read the problem carefully). Next, kids need to define or find the variables in the math equation.

From the keywords, kids can now determine what math operation to use. Translate the words to math. Then, kids can solve the math equation. This is where the skills of solving numbered equations are important.

Finally, students have to put their answers in the form of a word sentence. NOTE: Many times kids think after solving the equation they are done. However, the key to making sure they understand that word problems need word answers.

Different Strategies to Familiarize Keywords in Word Operations

You can use some of these keywords for math word problems as vocabulary words in your homeschool.

Students can display subtraction, addition, multiplication, and multiplication handy reference posters on a bulletin board in your homeschool area. Students can also just list them on dry erase boards . These are perfect visual reminders for what keywords go with what math word problems.

Your students can also keep their keywords for math word problems with them as they study. They can place the list of keywords in a math folder or in an anchor chart – and then in their math folder.

Kids can keep the keyword poster sets in their math notebooks or keep them in a word problem journal .

Their strategy for learning word problem keywords all depends on how they best absorb information.

Students may do well using a combination of these methods. Either way, all of these different strategies can be used to get them comfortable in identifying the route to solve math word equations.

black upper background with white mathematical formulas. a girl doing math work and text overlay

Math Word Problem Keywords Cheat Sheets & Teaching Aids:

We created a free pdf download Word Problem Key Words Cheat Sheet that you can find at the bottom of this post. It’s great to use as a reference for math word problems.

Word Problem Clue Words

Get a Clue Free Download – Check out these word problem clue word handouts and posters to help your students with word problems. There 5 pages in all that will be handy for your kids in trying to find the correct answer while using the correct operation.

Addition and Subtraction Word Problem Keywords

Subtraction Keywords/Addition Keywords – Until your kids memorize keywords and what they mean, this freebie can help. Grab these simple black and white printable signs. They will help kids look for keywords like larger numbers for subtraction word problems or addition keywords like in addition to . 

Story Problem Key Words

Words to Math – Keywords in math problems are essentially turning words into math. This graphic organizer printable is a quick reference for your students to use with numberless math word problems. Place them in a notebook chart or your homeschool classroom wall as a visual reminder.

Word Problem Key Words Poster

Key Word Posters for Math Problems – Grab these word problem keyword handy reference posters for subtraction, addition, division, and multiplication. Each poster has its specific theme and specific words to solve all problem types. Kids will enjoy having practiced with these math key words posters.

Word Problem Key Words Worksheets

Fun Key Word Sorting Activity – Your kids have now studied some keywords for math word problems helpful for problem solving in mathematical operations. Use this word problem sorting activity to test their knowledge in a fun engaging way. Add this fun activity to your test prep materials.

World Problems Worksheets with Key Words – These word problems worksheets use key phrases to help your students identify the phrases that will help them determine which math operation to use.

Word Problem Key Words for Math

Math word problems are probably the first opportunity students get to understand how math relates to real world situations. The applications can be relevant in their real life experiences like going to the market.

However, the benefit to word problems doesn’t stop there…

With word problems, students develop their higher-order thinking and critical thinking skills.

Different types of word problems guide your students to applying math various math concepts at the same time. They have to know basic number sense, basic algebra skills, and even geometry when they attempt multiplication word problems.

If we do it the right way, kids won’t see word problems as a dreadful experience in math. Understanding word problems is a learning curve and doesn’t come easily to kids.

Identify Learning Gaps

Another important aspect of word problems is that they tell a parent/teacher if a child needs help in areas like reading comprehension or math number operations skills. This type of word math is a great evaluation of your student’s thinking processes.

We can, however, help make it a better experience for them by teaching it the right way.

Free Math Key Words Cheat Sheet Instant Download

You won’t want to miss our free Word Problem Key Words Cheat Sheet PDF download for different ways kids see keywords in various types of problems in mathematics. This math tool is everything your student needs and the perfect resource to reference keywords in math operations.

Includes the keywords that will help your children solve and recognize word problems for:

  • Subtraction
  • Multiplication

Instant Download: Math Word Problems Keywords Cheat Sheet

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Jeannette is a wife, mother and homeschooling mom. She has been mightily, saved by grace and is grateful for God’s sovereignty throughout her life’s journey. She has a Bachelor in English Education and her MBA. Jeannette is bi-lingual and currently lives in the Tongan Islands of the South Pacific. She posts daily freebies for homeschoolers!

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Strategies for Solving Word Problems – Math

problem solving key words chart

It’s one thing to solve a math equation when all of the numbers are given to you but with word problems, when you start adding reading to the mix, that’s when it gets especially tricky.

The simple addition of those words ramps up the difficulty (and sometimes the math anxiety) by about 100!

How can you help your students become confident word problem solvers? By teaching your students to solve word problems in a step by step, organized way, you will give them the tools they need to solve word problems in a much more effective way.

Here are the seven strategies I use to help students solve word problems.

1. read the entire word problem.

Before students look for keywords and try to figure out what to do, they need to slow down a bit and read the whole word problem once (and even better, twice). This helps kids get the bigger picture to be able to understand it a little better too.

2. Think About the Word Problem

Students need to ask themselves three questions every time they are faced with a word problem. These questions will help them to set up a plan for solving the problem.

Here are the questions:

A. what exactly is the question.

What is the problem asking? Often times, curriculum writers include extra information in the problem for seemingly no good reason, except maybe to train kids to ignore that extraneous information (grrrr!). Students need to be able to stay focused, ignore those extra details, and find out what the real question is in a particular problem.

B. What do I need in order to find the answer?

Students need to narrow it down, even more, to figure out what is needed to solve the problem, whether it’s adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, or some combination of those. They’ll need a general idea of which information will be used (or not used) and what they’ll be doing.

This is where key words become very helpful. When students learn to recognize that certain words mean to add (like in all, altogether, combined ), while others mean to subtract, multiply, or to divide, it helps them decide how to proceed a little better

Here’s a Key Words Chart I like to use for teaching word problems. The handout could be copied at a smaller size and glued into interactive math notebooks. It could be placed in math folders or in binders under the math section if your students use binders.

One year I made huge math signs (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and divide symbols) and wrote the keywords around the symbols. These served as a permanent reminder of keywords for word problems in the classroom.

If you’d like to download this FREE Key Words handout, click here:

problem solving key words chart

C. What information do I already have?

This is where students will focus in on the numbers which will be used to solve the problem.

3. Write on the Word Problem

This step reinforces the thinking which took place in step number two. Students use a pencil or colored pencils to notate information on worksheets (not books of course, unless they’re consumable). There are lots of ways to do this, but here’s what I like to do:

  • Circle any numbers you’ll use.
  • Lightly cross out any information you don’t need.
  • Underline the phrase or sentence which tells exactly what you’ll need to find.

4. Draw a Simple Picture and Label It

Drawing pictures using simple shapes like squares, circles, and rectangles help students visualize problems. Adding numbers or names as labels help too.

For example, if the word problem says that there were five boxes and each box had 4 apples in it, kids can draw five squares with the number four in each square. Instantly, kids can see the answer so much more easily!

5. Estimate the Answer Before Solving

Having a general idea of a ballpark answer for the problem lets students know if their actual answer is reasonable or not. This quick, rough estimate is a good math habit to get into. It helps students really think about their answer’s accuracy when the problem is finally solved.

6. Check Your Work When Done

This strategy goes along with the fifth strategy. One of the phrases I constantly use during math time is, Is your answer reasonable ? I want students to do more than to be number crunchers but to really think about what those numbers mean.

Also, when students get into the habit of checking work, they are more apt to catch careless mistakes, which are often the root of incorrect answers.

7. Practice Word Problems Often

Just like it takes practice to learn to play the clarinet, to dribble a ball in soccer, and to draw realistically, it takes practice to become a master word problem solver.

When students practice word problems, often several things happen. Word problems become less scary (no, really).

They start to notice similarities in types of problems and are able to more quickly understand how to solve them. They will gain confidence even when dealing with new types of word problems, knowing that they have successfully solved many word problems in the past.

If you’re looking for some word problem task cards, I have quite a few of them for 3rd – 5th graders.

This 3rd grade math task cards bundle has word problems in almost every one of its 30 task card sets..

There are also specific sets that are dedicated to word problems and two-step word problems too. I love these because there’s a task card set for every standard.

CLICK HERE to take a look at 3rd grade:

3rd Grade Math Task Cards Mega Bundle | 3rd Grade Math Centers Bundle

This 4th Grade Math Task Cards Bundle also has lots of word problems in almost every single of its 30 task card sets. These cards are perfect for centers, whole class, and for one on one.

CLICK HERE to see 4th grade:

th Grade 960 Math Task Cards Mega Bundle | 4th Grade Math Centers

This 5th Grade Math Task Cards Bundle is also loaded with word problems to give your students focused practice.

CLICK HERE to take a look at 5th grade:

5th Grade Math Task Cards Mega Bundle - 5th Grade Math Centers

Want to try a FREE set of math task cards to see what you think?

3rd Grade: Rounding Whole Numbers Task Cards

4th Grade: Convert Fractions and Decimals Task Cards

5th Grade: Read, Write, and Compare Decimals Task Cards

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Elementary math word problem key words and their limitations.

When you tell your students you will be working on word problems, do you hear a chorus of groans? If so, you are not alone! Teaching students how to solve math word problems tends to not be the most exciting math exercise in an elementary math curriculum (especially not learning about word problem key words and how they can be used to solve problems). They also tend to be very challenging for students. No wonder many students don’t like them!

In order for students to become proficient in mathematics, however, they need to apply their math learning to real life situations , which can be achieved through word problems. This experience should not be about following rote procedures and computing correct responses. When solving these types of problems, it is important for students to apply multiple strategies to make sense of the problem and solve it. These experiences should be grounded in strategy application and problem solving, rather than simply computation.

Identifying word problem key words is one of many strategies elementary students can use to help them solve single and multi-step word problems. Additionally, students need access to anchor charts, tools, and manipulatives that will equip them with the resources they need for these problem solving experiences. Using keywords for math word problems is just one piece of the puzzle!

This blog post will answer the following questions:

  • What are word problem key words?
  • What are some examples of keywords for addition word problems?
  • Can you share some examples of keywords for subtraction word problems?
  • What are some examples of keywords for multiplication word problems?
  • Can you share some examples of keywords for division word problems?
  • What are the limitations of using keywords to solve word problems?
  • Is using word problem keywords an effective strategy?

problem solving key words chart

What are Word Problem Key Words?

Word problem key words are words or phrases that signal which operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division) are needed in order to solve a math word problem.

Using keywords for math word problems (often referred to as clue words and phrases) is a strategy to make sense of and solve word problems. It is the idea of training the brain to look for specific words and phrases to determine what mathematical operations are needed. Here is an example of this strategy in practice:

Erin reads the problem: Pat has 3 red shirts. He has 2 blue shirts. How many red and blue shirts does he have in all? After reading through the problem once, Erin rereads the problem but this time she is looking specifically for the clue words and phrases she has learned. She highlights or underlines the phrase “in all.” She has learned in class that “in all” signals to the reader that they need to add. This strategy has helped her make sense of the problem (which in this case means that the addition operation is needed), set up an equation (3 + 2 = ?), and solve for the answer (5 shirts).

a teacher showing students how to use word problem key words in math

Common Math Word Problem Key Words and Phrases

Below is a list of key words and phrases that students can use to solve addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division word problems. If you teach the younger grades, you’ll find the list of addition and subtraction key words helpful. If you teach the older grades, you’ll find those helpful, as well as the multiplication and division key words.

Addition Key Words

Here are some examples of addition key words :

  • increased by
  • larger than
  • longer than

Subtraction Key Words

Here are some examples of subtraction key words :

  • How many more…?
  • How many less…?
  • shorter than
  • smaller than

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Multiplication Key Words

Here are some examples of multiplication key words :

Division Key Words

Here are some examples of division key words :

  • equal group

elementary students solving word problems digitally

Limitations of Using Keywords to Solve Word Problems

When students are learning how to solve word problems, it is beneficial for them to be exposed to, directly taught, and given practice with key words (also sometimes written as word problem keywords or keywords for math word problems). However, students need to understand that problems can be solved in many different ways. This is just one tool in their toolkit.  It is not always the most effective strategy to solve a given word problem. For example, students should not be trained to always subtract when they see the word less because they could use a missing addend from addition to solve.  This strategy should be used along with other strategies (e.g. visualization). As students progress through their math education and come across more challenging word problems, this strategy will become less effective. As a result, your students need to be equipped with an abundance of diverse strategies.

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We would love for you to try these word problem resources with your students. It offers them opportunities to practice applying word problem key words strategies, as well as other problem solving strategies. You can download word problem worksheets specific to your grade level (along with lots of other math freebies) in our free printable math resources bundle using this link: free printable math activities for elementary teachers .

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Creating key word flash cards:

  • Have a student count out the number of index cards that the class determined in the warm up problem and distribute four cards to each student.
  • Direct students to create four flash cards — one for each of the four mathematical operations. On the blank side of each card, they should boldly write an operation and its symbol (i.e., +, -, x, where is the division symbol?), and on the reverse, lined sign they should list the key words associated with that operation. (Students should base these flash cards on the table you created on the front board.)

Playing the role of "math coach":

  • Organize the class into small groups of no more than three to four students in each group, and explain that they will be using their new flash cards as visual aids in math coaching!
  • Distribute a "Solving Word Problems through Key Words" sheet to a student in each group and explain that the student with the sheet will act as the reader and recorder during the first round. The reader and recorder's job is to read a word problem aloud and to allow his fellow "math coaches" to advise him on which mathematical operation to follow in solving the problem.
  • Advise the math coaches in the class to listen to the word problem closely, to advise the reader and recorder to underline any key words in the problem that they detect, and to follow the flash card mathematical operation that they decide to "flash."
  • Direct groups to complete the "Solving Word Problems through Key Words" sheet, alternating the role of reader and recorder so that each student has at least one or two turns in that role.

Sharing word problem answers and strategies:

  • Invite students to the front of the classroom to explain their group's word problem strategies and how key words led to determining which mathematical operations to use in each problem.
  • For homework, assign students the task of writing some of their own word problems containing some of the key words discussed in class but not previously used on the "Solving Word Problems through Key Words" sheet.

Extending the Lesson:

  • To further challenge students, you could give them additional word problems that challenge them to interpret the same key words in somewhat confusing contexts (e.g., "I have eight jelly beans, which is three fewer than my brother has. How many jelly beans does my brother have?") Or, you could also introduce word problems involving multiple mathematical operations  (e.g., "A 6000 seat stadium is divided into 3 sections. There are 2000 seats in Section 1, and there are 1500 more seats in Section 2 than in Section 3. How many seats are in Section 2?")

Assessment:

  • Check whether or not groups accurately solved each of the ten word problems and underlined appropriate key words in the "Solving Word Problems through Key Words" sheet.
  • Assess students' original word problems to see if they appropriately incorporated key words to indicate specific mathematical operations.

Educational Standards :

Benchmarks for Mathematics

Standard 1.     Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process

Level II (Grades 3-5) 1. Uses a variety of strategies to understand problem situations (e.g., discussing with peers, stating problems in own words, modeling problem with diagrams or physical objects, identifying a pattern)  2. Represents problems situations in a variety of forms (e.g., translates from a diagram to a number or symbolic expression) 3. Understands that some ways of representing a problem are more helpful than others 4. Uses trial and error and the process of elimination to solve problems 5. Knows the difference between pertinent and irrelevant information when solving problems  6. Understands the basic language of logic in mathematical situations (e.g., "and," "or," "not")  7. Uses explanations of the methods and reasoning behind the problem solution to determine reasonableness of and to verify results with respect to the original problem  Level III (Grades 6-8) 1. Understands how to break a complex problem into simpler parts or use a similar problem type to solve a problem 2. Uses a variety of strategies to understand problem-solving situations and processes (e.g., considers different strategies and approaches to a problem, restates problem from various perspectives)  3. Understands that there is no one right way to solve mathematical problems but that different methods (e.g., working backward from a solution, using a similar problem type, identifying a pattern) have different advantages and disadvantages 4. Formulates a problem, determines information required to solve the problem, chooses methods for obtaining this information, and sets limits for acceptable solutions  5. Represents problem situations in and translates among oral, written, concrete, pictorial, and graphical forms  6. Generalizes from a pattern of observations made in particular cases, makes conjectures, and provides supporting arguments for these conjectures (i.e., uses inductive reasoning)  7. Constructs informal logical arguments to justify reasoning processes and methods of solutions to problems (i.e., uses informal deductive methods)  8. Understands the role of written symbols in representing mathematical ideas and the use of precise language in conjunction with the special symbols of mathematics

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Breadcrumbs

How to Know which Operations to Use in Word Problems

problem solving key words chart

When working out what operation to use in a word problem, there are some key phrases students should look out for. Let’s take you through the key phrases and use them in examples.

Key phrases for addition word problems

Find the total. How many altogether? How many are there?

If asked the above, the word problem involves addition.

For example:

There are 14 goldfish in a water tank. Kerri put in 23 more goldfish in the tank. How many goldfish are there?

Answer: 14+ 23= 37. There are 37 goldfish in the tank.

Addition word problem worksheets

Starting in kindergarten, we’ve created addition word problems for students to practice. By grade 3, we’ve compiled mixed number word problems with addition as well.

Here’s an example of word problems of addition with sums of 50 or less from our grade 1 word problem section:

Key phrases for subtraction word problems

What is the difference? How many more? How many less?

If asked the above, the word problem involves subtraction.

For example: Mrs. Sheridan has 11cats. Mrs. Garrett has 24 cats. How many more cats does Mrs. Garrett have than Mrs. Sheridan?

Answer: 24 –11 = 13. She has 13 more cats.

Subtraction word problem worksheets

Starting in kindergarten, we’ve created subtraction word problem for every grade. By grade 3, you’ll find subtraction included in the mixed word problems as well.

In grade 2, students work on 1-3 digit subtraction word problems .

Key phrases for multiplication word problems

How many of the same thing repeated?

If asked the above, the word problem involves multiplication.

For example: Tyler, an animal rights advocate, decided to build his own animal sanctuary to protect different animals.

500 yards away there was the aquatic reserve for freshwater organisms. If there are 6 lakes in that region, each having 175 different fish, how many fish does he have in total?

(How many groups of 175 fish are repeated across 6 lakes.)

Answer: 6 x 175 = 1,050. He has a total of 1,050 fish.

Multiplication word problem worksheets

Starting in grade 3, students work on multiplication word problems .

Key phrases for division word problems

How many equal groups? If share evenly, how many…? The same number.

If asked the above, the word problem involves division.

For example: Sheila has started writing a list of the gifts that she plans to give to her family and friends this Christmas.

For her classmates, she made colorful paper stars which will be placed in small clear bottles. She was able to prepare 45 paper stars. How many stars will be placed in each bottle if Sheila has 9classmates?

Answer: 45 ÷ 9 = 5. There will be 5 stars placed in each bottle.

Division word problem worksheets

Starting in grade 3, we have division word problems for students to practice.

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Word Problem Key Words Anchor Chart

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Introduction

Welcome to our blog post about word problem key words anchor chart! In this article, we will discuss the importance of using an anchor chart to help students understand and solve word problems. We will also provide tips on creating an effective anchor chart and how it can improve students’ problem-solving skills.

What Are Word Problem Key Words?

Word problem key words are specific words or phrases that indicate mathematical operations and relationships in a word problem. These key words can help students identify the necessary steps to solve a problem correctly. Some common key words include “sum,” “difference,” “product,” and “ratio.”

Why Are Key Words Important?

Key words play a crucial role in word problem solving. They provide students with clues about the operations and steps they need to take to find the solution. By recognizing and understanding these key words, students can break down complex problems into manageable steps.

The Benefits of Using an Anchor Chart

An anchor chart is a visual tool that displays important information related to a specific topic. When it comes to word problem solving, an anchor chart can serve as a helpful reference for students. It provides a clear and organized overview of the key words and their corresponding operations.

Creating an Effective Anchor Chart

To create an effective anchor chart for word problem key words, follow these steps:

Step 1: Choose a Format

Decide on the format of your anchor chart. You can create a digital chart using software or opt for a physical chart that can be displayed in the classroom. Consider the space available and the visibility for students.

Step 2: Identify Key Words

Compile a list of commonly used key words in word problems. Include a variety of operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. You can also include specific key words related to fractions, percentages, and ratios.

Step 3: Organize and Design

Organize the key words in a clear and logical manner. Use headings, bullet points, or separate sections to categorize the key words based on their operations. Consider using different colors and fonts to make the chart visually appealing.

Step 4: Provide Examples

Include examples of word problems for each key word to reinforce understanding. Use simple and relatable scenarios that students can easily relate to. Encourage students to practice solving these problems using the anchor chart as a guide.

Step 5: Display and Review

Display the anchor chart in a prominent place in the classroom where students can easily refer to it. Encourage regular review and discussion of the anchor chart during math lessons. This will help students internalize the key words and their corresponding operations.

In conclusion, using a word problem key words anchor chart can greatly benefit students in their problem-solving skills. By providing a visual reference, students can easily identify and apply the appropriate operations when solving word problems. Follow the steps outlined in this article to create an effective anchor chart that will enhance your students’ understanding and proficiency in word problem solving.

This Reading Mama

Word Problem Vocabulary Sorts {FREE Vocabulary Cards}

By thisreadingmama 10 Comments

Word problems. Just the sound of that term may bring back bad memories. I know it does for me. As an elementary student, I despised word problems with ever fiber of my body. Why? Because, as a struggling reader , I struggled to read and comprehend them. I also wasn’t sure what the problem wanted me to do. It would have helped tremendously if I had studied some word problem vocabulary among other things (like some steps to problem solving).

Word Problem Vocabulary Sorts - This Reading Mama

*This post contains affiliate links.

Word Problem Vocabulary Sorts

I’m definitely not an expert in math, but I do know that there is reading involved with word problems. And I do know that lack of vocabulary  and lack of  figuring out unknown words  leads to a breakdown in comprehension, no matter what kids are reading.

Just recently, I created some word problem vocabulary cards {FREE download at the end of this post} for my 3rd grader, ALuv. As we’ve worked through the different operations this year, we’ve talked about these terms. Now that we’re at the end of our year, I thought it was time to do a little vocabulary review {before that fun standardized end-of-the-year test}.

sorting word problem vocabulary by operation

One of the things we did with our word cards was sort them in our tabletop pocket chart . {Seeing that it’s LEGO week , I tried to make the background of each card look like LEGO bricks .}

word problem math vocabulary on LEGO bricks

We also incorporated our LEGO bricks into the word sorts, too. I wrote the vocabulary words on LEGO bricks and we read and sorted them together. He really liked doing this, as he is a wee bit obsessed with LEGO bricks {or building with anything, really}.

word problem vocabulary - which operation do you use

These terms are not meant to just be memorized and sorted. They are meant to be applied to real word problems. So, we have looked for these terms as one the steps to solving word problems.

Books for Teaching Problem Solving to Kids

Since my brain is wired more for literacy, here are a couple of math books I’ve purchased and used heavily as a classroom teacher and as a homeschooling mom.

About Teaching Mathematics by Marilyn Burns is one that I devoured. I’m kind of shocked at the price of the newer edition {the 3rd edition is a little less}, but it is well worth it, in my opinion. Burns’ focus is helping kids move beyond just computation {although that is thoroughly covered} to applying that knowledge to real life situations and problems.

If you teach in the elementary grades, Introduction to Problem Solving {3-5 grades} has been a life-saver for me. After purchasing the problem solving book for PreK-2nd grades a few years ago, which can longer be purchased, it seems}, I purchased the one for 3rd through 5th grades. The problem solving steps are taught as well as a chapter on each of the problem solving strategies, like making a table, choosing an operation, or finding a pattern. By the way, if you teach PreK-2nd grades, I’d also recommend this one for you!

I have one more recommendation that I have not used, but heard good things about from a Reading in Math teacher training I did this past year, Teaching Struggling Readers to Tackle Math Word Problems for Grades 3-5. The thing that struck me about this book was how it ties the basic reading comprehension strategies with comprehending word problems.

 Download these FREE Word Problem Vocabulary Cards HERE .

Word Problem Vocabulary Sorts - FREE Math Vocabulary Pack from This Reading Mama

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May 8, 2015 at 10:11 am

Such a cool use of blocks, great idea!

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May 10, 2015 at 10:57 pm

I love the idea of using legos to review the related vocabulary terms! That’s a fun and hands-on way to practice! I actually just wrote about the importance of teaching and understanding math vocabulary so I’m excited to see this! 🙂 As always, thanks for sharing!

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May 11, 2015 at 3:20 pm

So cool. I sent you an email, Bethany. 🙂

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December 6, 2017 at 7:59 am

I love both ideas of lego stacking vocab words and the pocket chart for different ways to represent + and -,etc. So creative!!!!!! Thanks for sharing!

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August 20, 2021 at 3:52 pm

Do you have any ideas/suggestions for a great-grandchild with dyslexia? I do not understand dyslexia and the continuing problems with reading. One day the word is known by sight, the next day it is not. Sounding out every word is time consuming and leads to complete frustration. I am concerned that “I can’t read. I hate school. I hate reading.” thoughts have developed. Any help you can send is appreciated.

May 12, 2022 at 2:06 pm

Check out my dyslexia series! You can find them on the blog. I’m also going to be releasing a dyslexia handbook soon!

[…] Lego Vocabulary Word Sorts | This Reading Mama […]

[…] with word problems, I encourage you to focus on the vocabulary first. To help with that, check out this post from This Reading Mama! She has a great download of math vocabulary cards, as well as a fun way to […]

[…] 2nd Annual LEGO Week page for more super fun LEGO Ideas! Here are the other Friday ideas: LEGO Word Problem Sorts Erupting LEGO Volcano LEGO Man Sun Catcher LEGO Night Light Using LEGO With Reading Worksheets […]

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problem solving key words chart

problem solving key words chart

No More Keywords for Math Word Problems

  • Content and Standards

problem solving key words chart

The use of math keywords focuses on looking at the words of a word problem in isolation and not in the context of the problem. In this post, I share four reasons why using keywords for math word problems fail students .

There are 125 sheep and 5 dogs in a flock. How old is the shepherd?  

1st Student: “I can’t solve this because it doesn’t say anything about the shepherd.” 

2nd Student: “120 years old because 125 minus the 5 dogs in a flock.” 

3rd Student: “25.” [The student’s work shows 125 divided by 5].

4th Student: “25” [The student’s work shows 125 divided by 5].

5th Student: “25” [The student’s work shows 125 divided by 5].

6th Student: “It doesn’t tell you.” 

7th Student: “130” [The student’s work shows the sum of 125 and 5.]

8th Student: “65” [The student’s work shows (125 + 5) ÷ 2.]

9th Student: “25.” When asked to explain her solution, the student responded, “Because it doesn’t say the difference, or the sum, or the product.” 

Of the 32 eighth-grade students asked to solve this problem, only 8 of them were able to give a response indicating they were able to read the problem, make sense of it, and determine there was not enough information to solve it.   

While the results of this scenario are quite shocking, this kind of formulaic thinking when it comes to solving word problems is all too common. 

In fact, when another mathematics educator tried a similar activity with her first graders, her results were just as astounding. (See the original post and video here . )

So, what’s the problem?

Using Keywords For Math Word Problems

Our students have been trained to look for math keywords, or clues, to what operation they are expected to perform to solve a math word problem. While I completely understand that teachers have perfected the use of keywords over the years in order to provide a strategy that would prove successful both in the classroom and on standardized tests, the use of keywords does not require students to think critically about a problem or allow them to make sense of the situation.

On a recent search in Pinterest, I was not surprised to find a plethora of pins related to using keywords for math word problems. The picture below shows a list of all the keywords that I found– many of which, I disagree with the placement or inclusion of.

This poster shows an example of keywords for math word problems.

As a teacher, I can’t imagine what it would feel like to help my students memorize all of these terms. How are they going to learn them– with a weekly quiz?

I think not.

Why Not Keywords?

But using keywords for math word problems works just fine for me you say?

Van de Walle and Lovin (2006) and Van de Walle, Karp, and Bay-Williams (2012) offer four reasons to remove the use of keywords from our work with students:

1. Keywords can be Dangerous!

Many authors and resource creators use keywords in ways that differ from the way students expect them to be used which leads students to an incorrect solution strategy pathway. Add to that the use of multiple-meaning words and our students can become quickly overwhelmed and confused.

Consider the following problem: Julie left $9 on the table. Her brother left $6 on the table. How much money was left on the table? Use of the word “left” might indicate to some that the solution to this problem is obtained with subtraction; however, this is an addition situation because two quantities are being joined together. 

(Find more “Keyword Fails” here .)

2. Use of Keywords Misses the Big Picture

The use of math keywords focuses on looking at the words in isolation and not in the context of the problem.

“Mathematics is about reasoning and making sense of situations” (Van de Walle & Lovin, 2006, p. 70); therefore, students should analyze the structure of the problems in the context not just dissect them for keywords.

When students begin to view problem situations in this way, they can identify the bigger picture and make connections between problem situations and the necessary solution strategy required to solve the problem.

3. What If There’s No Keyword?

Many problems, especially as students begin to advance to more sophisticated work, have no keywords.

Consider the following problem: Dominique had 10 flower petals. Four were green and the rest were orange. How many orange flower petals does Dominique have?  

Because this problem does not contain keywords, students who rely on this approach will not have a strategy on which to rely, which will most likely result in a new word, like “rest” being added to the subtraction word list.

4. Will Keywords Support Students Long-Term?

While teachers in the younger grades claim to have great success using keywords for math word problems, the use of keywords does not work with more advanced problems or those with more than one step.

Therefore, students who do not attend to the meaning of a problem while solving it will be unsuccessful in completing the problem because they will miss the intermediate steps needed to lead to the final result.

This is a quote about using tricks to learn math.

Making Sense of Problems

The first Mathematical Practice Standard of the Common Core State Standards for Math describe mathematically proficient students as those who can: 

  • Explain the meaning of a problem
  • Plan a solution pathway rather than jumping to a solution
  • Continually check for reasonableness and ask, “Does this make sense?” 

These three skills are essential to solving math word problems successfully.

But, how do we help students develop them?

Using Tricks To Replace Thinking

Tina Cardone, the author of Nix the Tricks , a guide to avoiding non-conceptually developmental short-cuts, suggests having students think about the words of the problem as a whole and focus on what is happening in the problem in context.

Students can accomplish this by visualizing the situation and creating a mental picture of the actions that are taking place. Once they understand the actions, students can then connect the actions to symbols.

After students have experience with a variety of problem situations, some patterns will begin to emerge as students begin to recognize recurring themes, such as joining, part-part-whole, separating, comparing, equal groups, sharing, and measuring.

Throughout the year, teachers can record the different situations students encounter on an anchor chart. Then replace that old, out-dated math keywords poster with the brand-spanking-new operation situations poster.

This poster shows how the operation situations can be used to replace keywords for math word problems.

Want to know more about the operation situations and strategies to help with math word problems ?

Download the free poster above using the form below and click here to learn more about strategies to help with math word problems.

What strategies do you use to emphasize making sense of word problems with your students? Share your ideas in the comments section below. 

  • Common Core State Standards for Math
  • https://gfletchy.com/2015/01/12/teaching-keywords-forget-about-it/
  • http://nixthetricks.com/
  • http://tjzager.com/2014/10/18/making-sense/
  • Van de Wall, J. A., Karp, K. S., & Bay-Williams, J. M. (2012). Elementary and middle school mathematics: Teaching developmentally. Boston, MA: Pearson.
  • Van de Wall, J. A. and Lovin, L. H. (2006). Teaching student-centered mathematics: Grades 3 – 5. Boston, MA: Pearson.

problem solving key words chart

Shametria Routt Banks

problem solving key words chart

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8 Responses

Love the Analyzing Word Problems poster!

Thank you SOOOOO very much. I always thought that lists of key words were incomplete and had so much crossover … and needed to be used in context. You have combined all of this in a clear and concise way. LOVE IT!

Hi Patricia!

I’m so glad you found the post useful!

~ Shametria

Hi. As a non math teacher,I really like this approach. Word problems were the hated vegetable that went with a main course I hated and couldn’t cut. I was disappointed, though,that so many links didn’t work. I’m not sure how old the post is, so that may be the problem. But thanks for teaching me to teach them.

I’m so glad you found the post helpful! I went through the post and all the links work; however, you may have read it at a time when I was updating the connecting posts and they were in draft form. My apologies about that. All the links do work though, so I encourage you to take another look. If you have any questions, please contact me at [email protected] . Thank you!

What about EL learners? I have third grade newcomers who have zero language and have to work through word problems.

Interesting concept and makes sense… I tell my students to think about the action that is taking place to help them determine the operation needed.

Hi LaChone! Love that you don’t focus on keywords– such a gamechanger!

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Teaching with Jennifer Findley

Upper Elementary Teaching Blog

February 10, 2016 | 17 Comments | Filed Under: Fractions , Math , Multiplication & Division , Word Problems

Solving Word Problems Without Relying on Key Words

One of the toughest things about teaching fifth grade is definitely the word problems. By fifth grade, a lot of students have become so dependent on using key words that they no longer even read for meaning when they’re solving word problems. However, as fifth grade teachers know, key words only take the students so far.

I have read many articles and blog posts that are adamant against teaching key words, but many of them do not offer an alternative. About three years ago, I created a strategy for teaching my students to solve word problems that does not rely on key words, and I want to share it with you today.

Help your students master word problems (without using key words) with this lesson idea and free printables that teach students to understand word problems conceptually.

What to Teach Instead of Key Words – Teach Situations

I really want my students to understand what the problem is asking them to do. Keeping this in mind, I teach word problems in terms of what the situation of the word problem is versus what key word is in the word problem.

Before I taught this strategy, many of my students read word problems in order to find the key words. They did not read to understand what the problem was really telling them or asking them.

To combat this, I teach them to think of word problems more as situations. When a student looks at a word problem from a situation standpoint, they are reading for meaning and really understanding what operation is required to solve the problem.

Introductory Lesson to Stop Relying on Key Words

Help your students master word problems (without using key words) with this lesson idea and free printables that teach students to understand word problems conceptually.

To get students to stop relying on key words and think of situations instead, I do an introductory lesson involving four word problems (shown above).

Each of the word problems use the word total . However, the word problems each require a different operation.

When discussing the word problems, we always have a big discussion about how each of the word problems uses total but they are not all adding or even multiplying. This really gets the students to understand that key words alone cannot always be relied upon.

During this lesson, I stress the importance of really understanding the situation that the word problem is describing to figure out which operation to use. A link to download the printable of the four word problems I use will be available at the end of this post.

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Solving Word Problems by Focusing on Situations

After teaching the lesson involving the four word problems, I move right into discussing different situations and how those situations can be translated through a word problem.

As a class, we discuss different situations and determine which operation would be used to solve the word problems that involve that situation.

Together, we create an anchor chart of different situations under the operation that would be used to solve the situation. We add to this anchor chart as the year progresses and the students are exposed to more word problems with varying situations (For example: taking part of a part when multiplying fractions).

Help your students master word problems (without using key words) with this lesson idea and free printables that teach students to understand word problems conceptually.

I use the printable chart above to help me generate a list of situations to discuss with students. Many of the fraction situations I don’t introduce until later on in the year once we start fractions.

Speaking of fractions, when we really start digging into multiplication and division of fractions, I always have to revisit the idea of using situations to help solve word problems versus key words. The fifth grade level fraction word problems are really tricky and many of my students revert back to key words because they are overwhelmed. At this point, I typically give students the printable version of the chart for them to refer to on a daily basis as they solve word problems.

Moving away from key words and having students think about operations in terms of situations instead has made a huge difference in the way my students think about and solve word problems.

When they are solving a tricky word problem, I always remind them to revisit the situation chart and see which situation matches the word problem. This gets them away from relying solely on key words and builds their confidence with word problems. It also helps them be more successful when solving multi-part word problems.  To read more about how I teach multi-part word problems, click here.

Download the FREE Word Problems without Key Words Printables Here!

P.S. If you are in need of word problems, click here to see the sets I have in my TeachersPayTeachers store.

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problem solving key words chart

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Get your 4th and 5th grade math students started with these word problems of the day.

Reader Interactions

17 comments.

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February 10, 2016 at 12:35 pm

This is a great resource! My students are constantly struggling with figuring out which operation to use in a math problem. I will be having my students glue this resource into their notebook for a constant reference. Thank you!

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February 10, 2016 at 5:34 pm

Mine struggled until I started doing this, too. It did take some work upfront to remind them to refer to the situation. However, it really does help with their conceptual understanding of word problems once they get used to it. I would love to know how it goes with your students.

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February 11, 2016 at 10:21 am

This is just perfectly written and so true. Kids need to know the process and operations not just key words! Thanks for sharing!

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February 17, 2016 at 6:48 pm

Do you have more of these type of similarly written different operation problems for sale to use a review on these? I really love this way of teaching!

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April 9, 2016 at 1:15 pm

This is fantastic! I’m a high school special education teacher and word problems are nearly impossible for a few of my kids. I think this will help tremendously. Thanks for sharing.

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September 22, 2016 at 8:18 am

This is a great approach! We are constatntly trying to find ways to make numeracy an problem solving “real”, considering the situation fits perfectly into our goal. Thank you!

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October 1, 2016 at 7:46 pm

Another great one, Jennifer! I am going to try this strategy in my class. I took a course over the summer that stated we should find other methods of teaching students to solve word problems and not solely rely on key words. I aggreed because every year, I have students add numbers that should be multiplied because the problem asked for a total. I have learned overtime that using manipulatives and drawing pictures aid in less errors being made, and the course I took made this apparent. This post and freebie are certainly beneficial. Thank you!

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November 27, 2016 at 6:34 am

thank you. In the past, and currently, I try to get them to draw diagrams. This will help them without having to draw, which many resist.

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December 12, 2016 at 9:29 pm

Thank you! I find myself “teaching” my son …seems like more than the teacher does. This is very helpful!

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March 8, 2017 at 9:48 am

Jennifer, It is so refreshing t see a teacher actually thinking about the learning from their student’s point of view. There is so much that we do in our heads and take for granted. We forget to be explicit in out teaching- opening up our thought processes to students. Great job with this!

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July 10, 2018 at 12:12 pm

I agree with other posters – this is such a great strategy. I teach third grade, and I’ve found that some of my students don’t even read the problem, they just look for the numbers and a keyword because they don’t truly understand what to do! I have tried focusing on visualizing the problem and really getting students to picture/imagine what is happening in the problem in order to figure out what operation to use. With this strategy, though, I find that some of my struggling learners still have a really hard time identifying the operation, even when using manipulatives to visualize. Do you have any tips for those students who are really struggling to grasp these problem solving strategies?

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December 7, 2018 at 12:34 pm

Hey, is it okay if I adapt your situations for my 6th graders? I want to add determining the amount left to subtraction when taking one amount from another to subtraction and add in the word percent to the situation of finding a part of a whole number and finding a part of a part.

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April 24, 2020 at 3:38 pm

This is amazing. Thank you so much for all the help to all of us!

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October 27, 2020 at 6:23 pm

I found your resource and will be using it to teach word problem solving to my fourth graders this week. Your resource looks so lovely and the content so valuable. Will be heading to TPT to pick up some of your word problems! Thanks so much.

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October 26, 2023 at 12:42 pm

HI! I am trying to download the Free Word Problems without Key Words and I can’t seem to get it to work. I hope to be able to get it. I love the fact that key words are the main idea here. Can you help me to get this resource? Thank you so much!

October 26, 2023 at 1:00 pm

Hi Kimberly, try this direct link: https://jenniferfindley.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Teaching-Word-Problems-with-Situations-Poster.pdf

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November 5, 2023 at 9:17 pm

I 100% agree with teaching situations instead of key words. I teach 6th grade math and I teach them to stop and think about what is happening in this situation. The key words may work better in the lower grade but I have found them not to be so helpful in sixth along with the fact that many of the students just grab a key word and go with it.

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problem solving key words chart

Welcome friends! I’m Jennifer Findley: a teacher, mother, and avid reader. I believe that with the right resources, mindset, and strategies, all students can achieve at high levels and learn to love learning. My goal is to provide resources and strategies to inspire you and help make this belief a reality for your students. Learn more about me.

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Solving word problem chart

1. Understand the Problem by Paraphrasing

2. identify key information and variables, 3. translate words into mathematical symbols, 4. break down the problem into manageable parts, 5. draw diagrams or visual representations, 6. use estimation to predict answers, 7. apply logical reasoning for unknown variables, 8. leverage similar problems as templates, 9. check answers in the context of the problem, 10. reflect and learn from mistakes.

Have you ever observed the look of confusion on a student’s face when they encounter a math word problem ? It’s a common sight in classrooms worldwide, underscoring the need for effective strategies for solving math word problems . The main hurdle in solving math word problems is not just the math itself but understanding how to translate the words into mathematical equations that can be solved.

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Generic advice like “read the problem carefully” or “practice more” often falls short in addressing students’ specific difficulties with word problems. Students need targeted math word problem strategies that address the root of their struggles head-on. 

A Guide on Steps to Solving Word Problems: 10 Strategies 

One of the first steps in tackling a math word problem is to make sure your students understand what the problem is asking. Encourage them to paraphrase the problem in their own words. This means they rewrite the problem using simpler language or break it down into more digestible parts. Paraphrasing helps students grasp the concept and focus on the problem’s core elements without getting lost in the complex wording.

Original Problem: “If a farmer has 15 apples and gives away 8, how many does he have left?”

Paraphrased: “A farmer had some apples. He gave some away. Now, how many apples does he have?”

This paraphrasing helps students identify the main action (giving away apples) and what they need to find out (how many apples are left).

Play these subtraction word problem games in the classroom for free:

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Students often get overwhelmed by the details in word problems. Teach them to identify key information and variables essential for solving the problem. This includes numbers , operations ( addition , subtraction , multiplication , division ), and what the question is asking them to find. Highlighting or underlining can be very effective here. This visual differentiation can help students focus on what’s important, ignoring irrelevant details.

  • Encourage students to underline numbers and circle keywords that indicate operations (like ‘total’ for addition and ‘left’ for subtraction).
  • Teach them to write down what they’re solving for, such as “Find: Total apples left.”

Problem: “A classroom has 24 students. If 6 more students joined the class, how many students are there in total?”

Key Information:

  • Original number of students (24)
  • Students joined (6)
  • Looking for the total number of students

Here are some fun addition word problems that your students can play for free:

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The transition from the language of word problems to the language of mathematics is a critical skill. Teach your students to convert words into mathematical symbols and equations. This step is about recognizing keywords and phrases corresponding to mathematical operations and expressions .

Common Translations:

  • “Total,” “sum,” “combined” → Addition (+)
  • “Difference,” “less than,” “remain” → Subtraction (−)
  • “Times,” “product of” → Multiplication (×)
  • “Divided by,” “quotient of” → Division (÷)
  • “Equals” → Equals sign (=)

Problem: “If one book costs $5, how much would 4 books cost?”

Translation: The word “costs” indicates a multiplication operation because we find the total cost of multiple items. Therefore, the equation is 4 × 5 = $20

Complex math word problems can often overwhelm students. Incorporating math strategies for problem solving, such as teaching them to break down the problem into smaller, more manageable parts, is a powerful approach to overcome this challenge. This means looking at the problem step by step rather than simultaneously trying to solve it. Breaking it down helps students focus on one aspect of the problem at a time, making finding the solution more straightforward.

Problem: “John has twice as many apples as Sarah. If Sarah has 5 apples, how many apples do they have together?”

Steps to Break Down the Problem:

Find out how many apples John has: Since John has twice as many apples as Sarah, and Sarah has 5, John has 5 × 2 = 10

Calculate the total number of apples: Add Sarah’s apples to John’s to find the total,  5 + 10 = 15

By splitting the problem into two parts, students can solve it without getting confused by all the details at once.

Explore these fun multiplication word problem games:

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Diagrams and visual representations can be incredibly helpful for students, especially when dealing with spatial or quantity relationships in word problems. Encourage students to draw simple sketches or diagrams to represent the problem visually. This can include drawing bars for comparison, shapes for geometry problems, or even a simple distribution to better understand division or multiplication problems .

Problem: “A garden is 3 times as long as it is wide. If the width is 4 meters, how long is the garden?”

Visual Representation: Draw a rectangle and label the width as 4 meters. Then, sketch the length to represent it as three times the width visually, helping students see that the length is 4 × 3 = 12

Estimation is a valuable skill in solving math word problems, as it allows students to predict the answer’s ballpark figure before solving it precisely. Teaching students to use estimation can help them check their answers for reasonableness and avoid common mistakes.

Problem: “If a book costs $4.95 and you buy 3 books, approximately how much will you spend?”

Estimation Strategy: Round $4.95 to the nearest dollar ($5) and multiply by the number of books (3), so 5 × 3 = 15. Hence, the estimated total cost is about $15.

Estimation helps students understand whether their final answer is plausible, providing a quick way to check their work against a rough calculation.

Check out these fun estimation and prediction word problem worksheets that can be of great help:

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When students encounter problems with unknown variables, it’s crucial to introduce them to logical reasoning. This strategy involves using the information in the problem to deduce the value of unknown variables logically. One of the most effective strategies for solving math word problems is working backward from the desired outcome. This means starting with the result and thinking about the steps leading to that result, which can be particularly useful in algebraic problems.

Problem: “A number added to three times itself equals 32. What is the number?”

Working Backward:

Let the unknown number be x.

The equation based on the problem is  x + 3x = 32

Solve for x by simplifying the equation to 4x=32, then dividing by 4 to find x=8.

By working backward, students can more easily connect the dots between the unknown variable and the information provided.

Practicing problems of similar structure can help students recognize patterns and apply known strategies to new situations. Encourage them to leverage similar problems as templates, analyzing how a solved problem’s strategy can apply to a new one. Creating a personal “problem bank”—a collection of solved problems—can be a valuable reference tool, helping students see the commonalities between different problems and reinforcing the strategies that work.

Suppose students have solved a problem about dividing a set of items among a group of people. In that case, they can use that strategy when encountering a similar problem, even if it’s about dividing money or sharing work equally.

It’s essential for students to learn the habit of checking their answers within the context of the problem to ensure their solutions make sense. This step involves going back to the original problem statement after solving it to verify that the answer fits logically with the given information. Providing a checklist for this process can help students systematically review their answers.

Checklist for Reviewing Answers:

  • Re-read the problem: Ensure the question was understood correctly.
  • Compare with the original problem: Does the answer make sense given the scenario?
  • Use estimation: Does the precise answer align with an earlier estimation?
  • Substitute back: If applicable, plug the answer into the problem to see if it works.

Problem: “If you divide 24 apples among 4 children, how many apples does each child get?”

After solving, students should check that they understood the problem (dividing apples equally).

Their answer (6 apples per child) fits logically with the number of apples and children.

Their estimation aligns with the actual calculation.

Substituting back 4×6=24 confirms the answer is correct.

Teaching students to apply logical reasoning, leverage solved problems as templates, and check their answers in context equips them with a robust toolkit for tackling math word problems efficiently and effectively.

One of the most effective ways for students to improve their problem-solving skills is by reflecting on their errors, especially with math word problems. Using word problem worksheets is one of the most effective strategies for solving word problems, and practicing word problems as it fosters a more thoughtful and reflective approach to problem-solving

These worksheets can provide a variety of problems that challenge students in different ways, allowing them to encounter and work through common pitfalls in a controlled setting. After completing a worksheet, students can review their answers, identify any mistakes, and then reflect on them in their mistake journal. This practice reinforces mathematical concepts and improves their math problem solving strategies over time.

3 Additional Tips for Enhancing Word Problem-Solving Skills

Before we dive into the importance of reflecting on mistakes, here are a few impactful tips to enhance students’ word problem-solving skills further:

1. Utilize Online Word Problem Games

A word problem game

Incorporate online games that focus on math word problems into your teaching. These interactive platforms make learning fun and engaging, allowing students to practice in a dynamic environment. Games can offer instant feedback and adaptive challenges, catering to individual learning speeds and styles.

Here are some word problem games that you can use for free:

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2. Practice Regularly with Diverse Problems

Word problem worksheet

Consistent practice with a wide range of word problems helps students become familiar with different questions and mathematical concepts. This exposure is crucial for building confidence and proficiency.

Start Practicing Word Problems with these Printable Word Problem Worksheets:

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3. Encourage Group Work

Solving word problems in groups allows students to share strategies and learn from each other. A collaborative approach is one of the best strategies for solving math word problems that can unveil multiple methods for tackling the same problem, enriching students’ problem-solving toolkit.

Conclusion 

Mastering math word problems is a journey of small steps. Encourage your students to practice regularly, stay curious, and learn from their mistakes. These strategies for solving math word problems are stepping stones to turning challenges into achievements. Keep it simple, and watch your students grow their confidence and skills, one problem at a time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can i help my students stay motivated when solving math word problems.

Encourage small victories and use engaging tools like online games to make practice fun and rewarding.

What's the best way to teach beginners word problems?

Begin with simple problems that integrate everyday scenarios to make the connection between math and real-life clear and relatable.

How often should students practice math word problems?

Regular, daily practice with various problems helps build confidence and problem-solving skills over time.

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  1. Math Key Words for Problem Solving {Notebook Anchor Charts}

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  4. Key Words to Problem Solving {Poster/Anchor Chart with Cards for Students}

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  5. Math Key Words for Problem Solving {Notebook Anchor Charts}

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  6. Mathematics Problem Solving Key Words Chart (Word Problems)

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COMMENTS

  1. Teaching Math Word Problem Key Words (Free Cheat Sheet)

    What are keywords for math word problems? Key words in mathematical word operations are the words or phrases that will signal or show a student which type of math operation to choose in order to solve the math word problem.

  2. PDF Key Words for Solving Word Problems

    Key Words for Solving Word Problems The hardest part of solving a word problem is actually understanding the problem and determining the operation (or operations) that needs to be performed. Listed below are a few of the most commonly used key words in word problems and the operations that they signal.

  3. PDF Key Words Used in Math Word Problems

    Key Words Used in Math Word Problems Addition Words add all together or altogether and both combined how many in all how much in all increased by plus sum together total Subtraction Words change decreased by difference fewer or fewer than how many are left (or have left)

  4. PDF Mathematics Operations and Word Problem Key Vocabulary

    dividend÷divisor= quotient. 10 ÷ 5 = 2. dividend÷divisor= quotient. plus add. minus take away. times multiplied by. divided by divided into. divided by divided into. added to additional all together both combined how many in all increased by more than plus sum together total, total of.

  5. Math Keywords for Problem Solving

    Help your students decipher math word problems with a set of printable math keyword anchor charts. Boost Problem-Solving with Word Problem Keywords! Are your students struggling with word problems?

  6. Strategies for Solving Word Problems

    Here are the seven strategies I use to help students solve word problems. 1. Read the Entire Word Problem. Before students look for keywords and try to figure out what to do, they need to slow down a bit and read the whole word problem once (and even better, twice). This helps kids get the bigger picture to be able to understand it a little ...

  7. Elementary Math Word Problem Key Words and Their Limitations

    Below is a list of key words and phrases that students can use to solve addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division word problems. If you teach the younger grades, you'll find the list of addition and subtraction key words helpful.

  8. Results for problem solving key words

    About this Product:This notebook chart is a 4 Square Organizer filled with Key Words for each of the four basic operations. This chart could be used in several ways:Teach your students how to determine what operation the Math problem is asking them to do by looking for key words.I have my students BOX the Math words in every problem - this would include the key words as well as the numbers ...

  9. Problem Solving Key Words Display Poster (teacher made)

    Addition and Subtraction Word Problems Worksheet Year 2. Addition Vocabulary Poster (Large) RUDE Problem Solving Pencil Display Poster. 11 Problem Solving Strategies Display Posters. Problem Solving Strategies Display Poster. Help. This fabulous poster features key vocabulary for solving word problems. Great as a discussion prompt or spelling ...

  10. Math Key Words for Problem Solving {Notebook Anchor Chart}

    Math Key Words for Problem Solving {Notebook Anchor Chart} 4.9 (880 ratings) ; Grade Levels 2nd - 5th Subjects Math, Basic Operations, Math Test Prep Resource Type Handouts, Printables, Centers Formats Included PDF Pages 8 pages $1.50 Report this resource to TPT Jessica Meyer - The Literacy Loft 15.2k Followers Follow What educators are saying

  11. Problem Solving Key Words Anchor Chart Pieces

    Use these anchor chart pieces to create a vibrant visual of problem solving keywords to aid students in solving word problems. I use this resource in addition to other strategies to support students in solving word problems. It is important to stress the importance of not solely relying on keywords but using them as a tool.

  12. Using Key Words to Unlock Math Word Problems

    On the white board, display the Visual Thesaurus word map for "arithmetic operation" and then click on the meaning "a mathematical operation involving numbers" in order to reveal the four mathematical operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

  13. Key Words for Problem Solving

    Measurement Unit Key Words for Problem Solving Anchor Chart and Free Printable for Students

  14. How to Know which Operations to Use in Word Problems

    Subtraction word problem worksheets. Starting in kindergarten, we've created subtraction word problem for every grade. By grade 3, you'll find subtraction included in the mixed word problems as well. In grade 2, students work on 1-3 digit subtraction word problems. Key phrases for multiplication word problems. How many of the same thing ...

  15. Word Problem Key Words Anchor Chart

    Some common key words include "sum," "difference," "product," and "ratio." Why Are Key Words Important? Key words play a crucial role in word problem solving. They provide students with clues about the operations and steps they need to take to find the solution.

  16. Mathematics Problem Solving Key Words Chart (Word Problems)

    Mathematics Problem Solving Key Words Chart (Word Problems) 10 Ratings Subject Math, Basic Operations, Word Problems Grade Levels 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th Resource Type Handouts, Graphic Organizers, Posters File Type Zip (381 KB | N/A) $1.00 Digital Download Add one to cart Buy licenses to share Add to Wish List

  17. Word Problem Vocabulary Sorts {FREE Vocabulary Cards}

    Just recently, I created some word problem vocabulary cards {FREE download at the end of this post} for my 3rd grader, ALuv. As we've worked through the different operations this year, we've talked about these terms. Now that we're at the end of our year, I thought it was time to do a little vocabulary review {before that fun standardized ...

  18. No More Keywords for Math Word Problems

    In this post, I share four reasons why using keywords for math word problems fail students. There are 125 sheep and 5 dogs in a flock. How old is the shepherd? 1st Student: "I can't solve this because it doesn't say anything about the shepherd.". 2nd Student: "120 years old because 125 minus the 5 dogs in a flock.".

  19. Solving Word Problems Without Relying on Key Words

    Moving away from key words and having students think about operations in terms of situations instead has made a huge difference in the way my students think about and solve word problems. When they are solving a tricky word problem, I always remind them to revisit the situation chart and see which situation matches the word problem.

  20. Math Word Problem Key Words Anchor Chart Free Resource

    If so, this simple acronym and key words chart is the perfect start. After practicing this checklist, students will begin to independently write the word CUPS down the side of all word problems and utilize the steps all on their own. This can be used as an anchor chart, or to be glued into students' interactive notebooks. It is helpful to have ...

  21. What is Problem Solving? Steps, Process & Techniques

    1. Define the problem. Diagnose the situation so that your focus is on the problem, not just its symptoms. Helpful problem-solving techniques include using flowcharts to identify the expected steps of a process and cause-and-effect diagrams to define and analyze root causes.. The sections below help explain key problem-solving steps.

  22. Key Math Words Chart for Problem Solving

    31 Q&A More fromTerrific Times in Third Description Are your students struggling with word problems because they do not know which math operation to use? Thus chart will show them the keywords that will let them know when to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.

  23. 10 Best strategies for solving math word problems in 2024

    2. Identify Key Information and Variables. Students often get overwhelmed by the details in word problems. Teach them to identify key information and variables essential for solving the problem. This includes numbers, operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division), and what the question is asking them to find.Highlighting or underlining can be very effective here.

  24. Math Word Problem Anchor Chart

    Description. This anchor chart has 4 different categories for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division to highlight key words that students may see in word problems. Teaching Tips: Support your students problem-solving skills by teaching them how to look for key words to figure out the operation that they will need to use.