When teaching my students to solve word problems, I love starting with numberless problems. I learned this strategy a few years ago at a math conference. Numberless math problems help students to practice figuring out what problem they are solving by asking important questions.
When doing a numberless math problem, I always follow a certain step order.
1. Start with the numberless problem
First, I start with the problem. In this example: “In the nest there are birds and eggs”.
2. What questions do they have?
Next I ask the students what questions they are wondering? I wrote all their questions down on the board. Then, we reviewed their questions and talked about what are questions that we could really solve as mathematicians. For example, what color are the eggs is an interesting questions but not really one that we could figure out without seeing them. At the beginning of the year, before we talk about addition and subtraction, I will stop the routine right there.
3. Give more information to solve
However, we have learned about addition and subtraction now and I want to practice solving word problems with my students. So I give them a bit more information to answer a few of their problems.
In this lesson, my goal was for them to understand how to use a strategy (drawing) to solve a problem. So, I purposefully made it a more difficult problem than just a simple addition or subtraction problem. Then I modeled the drawing with them and explained how I used math drawings to solve word problems. Math drawings are just simple shapes that represent something in the problem. We’ve joked about how we can’t spend all math class drawing the best picture of a bird!
I love using numberless math problems as a way to help my students ask questions and determine which questions they are trying to solve for. After all, not all problems in the real world will have all the numbers or quantities in the problem! If you try these with your students, I’d love to see them! Share them on social media (Instagram, facebook, and/or twitter) and tag me so I can see them!