Solving word problems in mathematics


Junior high school students with poor performance on mathematical word problems


Students were required to memorize the names and descriptions of seven cognitive strategies for solving word problems. The steps to solve problems were: read (for understanding), paraphrase (your own words), visualize (a picture or a diagram), hypothesize (a plan to solve the problem), estimate (predict the answer), compute (do the arithmetic), and check (make sure that everything is right). In addition, metacogntive activities (i.e., say, ask, and check) that accompanied each step were also taught and students paraphrased each one.

The teacher modeled problem solving using an overhead projector and students practiced in a variety of ways. They took turns during the teacher demonstrations, gave their own class demonstrations, and worked independently and in pairs. Throughout instruction, the teacher gave corrective feedback. Additionally, supplying the students with graphs of their gains kept students motivated to improve their problem solving skills.


Give students mathematical word problems with one, two, and three step solutions. Ask them to explain how they arrived at their answers.


Montague, M., Applegate, B. & Marquard, K. (1993). Cognitive strategy instruction and mathematical problem-solving performance of students with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 8, 223-232.


Mary Boylin, UVA