It might seem obvious that we need to start the problem solving process by reading the problem, but the reality is that students want to start doing something with the numbers before they finish reading. I require my students to set down their pencil or dry erase marker and read the entire problem. I ask them to visualize what the problem is stating rather than trying to form a plan to solve. I have found that they are much more successful when they really think about what they know BEFORE they start drawing and solving.
After my students have read through the entire problem once, they will begin rereading the problem. This time, I ask that they just read one sentence or phrase at a time. They should draw a math model as they read. The models tend to be much more accurate if students are only reading one piece of the problem at a time. However, sometimes they will get to the end of the problem and discover that their model is not going to help them solve. That’s okay! Use the power of the eraser! I call them models rather than drawings because I want my students to understand that math models are not the same as a picture you might draw in art class. No one needs to be an artist in math class!
Models that my students might draw (because I have modeled them):
Equal Group Pictures
Tape Diagrams (also known as Bar Modeling)
Most students want to jump to writing an equation or number sentence, but in my class, it can’t be done until the model is drawn. Once the model is drawn students can better understand what the unknown is and write a number sentence that will help them to accurately solve the word problem. I always remind my students that they need to examine the model before writing the equation. After they solve the equation they need to ask if it is reasonable and then put it back into their model to check for accuracy.