If you’re like most teachers, you probably dread when it’s time to assign division word problems. They always seem to be so hard! But don’t worry – I’m here to help. In this blog post, I’ll share five roadblocks that make division word problems hard and provide tips for overcoming them. So read on and get ready to help students start conquering division word problems with ease!
Why Are Word Problems So Hard to Learn?
- Not understanding the question
- Determining what’s important
- Not recognizing division keywords and phrases
- Knowing which mathematical operation to use
- Knowing how to check their answer
Roadblock #1 – Not Understanding the Question
One of students’ most common roadblocks when solving division word problems is not understanding the question. This can be due to several factors, such as confusion about the terminology used in the question.
When this happens, it’s important to encourage your students to read through the question carefully and ask you for clarification if they need it. You might also want to provide them with a template that they can use to organize the information from the question before they start solving it.
Roadblock #2 – Determining What’s Important
Once students understand the question, they still might misinterpret what it’s asking them to do. For example, they might think that they need to find the answer to a division problem when the question is asking them to find the product of two numbers.
This can be a difficult mistake for students to catch on their own, so it’s important to model how to read and interpret division word problems. You might also want to consider having them work in pairs or small groups to check each other’s work for mistakes like this.
Roadblock #3 – Not Recognizing Division Keywords and Phrases
Another common mistake students make when solving division word problems is not paying attention to keywords and phrases. For example, many word problems will use phrases such as “each,” “every,” or “groups of” which indicate that an equal sharing arrangement needs to be found.
Not paying attention to these keywords and phrases can trip students up because they might try to solve problems using an inappropriate method.
Roadblock #4 – Knowing Which Mathematical Operation to Use
Another common issue students face with division word problems is not knowing which operation they should use. In some cases, the problem might be unclear and could be solved using either division or multiplication.
Other times, the problem might be requesting division, but students will try to solve it using addition or subtraction. Again, modeling is key here—show your students how you decide which operation to use when solving division word problems.
You might also want to provide them with practice problems where they must determine which operation should be used before solving the problem.
Roadblock #5 – Knowing How to Check Their Answers
Not knowing how to check their answers creates a roadblock too. Teaching students to use the opposite function to check their answers can make a big difference. Like most of these issues, we can help our students by modeling the correct way to overcome them.
Strategies to Get Past These Division Word Problems Roadblocks
When I taught 3rd grade, we found that our students struggled with word problems of all types. As a team, we devised a strategy we called R.U.P.S.E. This created a series of steps for them to follow when solving word problems.
- R – Read
- U – Underline
- P – Plan
- S – Solve
- E – Explain
Roadblock #1 (R-Read)
Creating this framework helped our students overcome the first roadblock because they had to carefully read the word problem first.
Roadblock #2 and #3
The next step required them to underline important information and keywords before they started.
Here are some division keywords that students can look for:
- equal groups
- out of
This requirement included underlining the question being asked. Some examples of these questions:
- How many in each?
- How many equal groups?
- How many did each get?
- How much will each get?
Roadblock #4 (P-Plan)
Teaching our students to plan their strategy first helped them decide which operation made sense.
In division, that would mean finding equal groups. Our students were taught to decide how many groups there should be and draw circles to represent those. Then they divide the total number given in the word problem equally among those groups.
Roadblock #5 (E – Explain)
The last one is so helpful for students. It requires them to reflect and write about their problem-solving.
The explanation can be just 1 – 2 sentences. It helped them and us see what their thinking was and where the misconceptions were. The misconceptions helped us show them how to check their answers in this step.
Writing Tip: One thing that helped my 3rd graders improve their writing in this step is having them read their responses to each other and me. I would give them feedback on whether their response explained it correctly. If their response was particularly good, I would ask them to share it with the whole class. They loved that, so they tried harder each time!
I hope this blog post has been helpful and given you some ideas on how to help your students overcome the five most common roadblocks to success with division word problems. If you’re looking for more math resources, be sure to check out my other blog posts on math problem-solving. And finally, don’t forget to try out the RUPSE framework the next time you teach division word problems – I promise it will make a difference!
Grab this Division FREEBIE that you can use to help students learn how to divide numbers into 2 – 9 groups. They are perfect for small group instruction!
Here are some division math resources you might find helpful!
The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.Robert John Meehan
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