Illustration: The Key to Helping Your Child Solve Math Word Problems

Kids may find this hard to believe, but there are quite a few parents that actually enjoyed solving math word problems when they were in school. Story problems that were a little challenging were a welcome change from focusing on math equations.

However, there are some parents that remember a feeling of dread when they recall math word problems. Sifting through words and distractors in order to extract a simple equation was enough to panic some students.

Today, math word problems still challenge many elementary and middle school students. Some students excel at them, while others may have a bit of a freak out session during homework time.

The equations and processes students learn will never cease to be important. Word problems are also necessary because they allow for practical application of math skills. At work, adults encounter numerous real-life math situations that aren’t neatly packaged in an equation. Learning to solve math word problems from a young age provides the foundation students need to solve similar problems when they enter the workplace.

And today’s students have the benefit of a tool that adults weren’t as encouraged to use when we were kids: illustration.

Visualize math word problems with pictures

Illustrations are the key to removing the abstract from word problems and making math more real.

Math curricula for early elementary school do this already by encouraging younger students to draw out their answers.

For example, if a word problem asks “Michael has three dimes, two nickels, and seven pennies; How much money does he have?”

The student can also draw dimes, nickels, and pennies on the worksheet to help them solve the question. The mere act of drawing these coins expands the problem into a visual cue that can be easier for children to understand. After drawing the coins, the student can point to each one and add them up to get the answer.

And drawing diagrams can help older students too.

Take this example: “Lori cuts half of a pie to take home to her family. Joe takes a third of that pie for himself. How much pie is left?”

The equation on this is 1 minus 1/2 minus 1/3 equals x, which is 1–1/2–1/3=x. The mere sight of adding or subtracting fractions may seem daunting for students, but with illustrations, the solution is easily achievable. First, draw a pie, shade in Lori’s half, shade Joe’s third, and what you have left is the answer.

Unlock the math in word problems

Of course, some kids will come up to arrive at answers like 47 cents or 1/6 without needing to draw the problem out. The illustration process, though, is just as important to them as well.

Not every word problem is going to be simple, and there might be a time when drawing the solution will not be an option. When students use illustration to solve math word problems, the process becomes internalized. Kids begin drawing math in their heads. Eventually, they might not need drawings for each question, as their brains will start visualizing the problem and strategies. And that skill can last a lifetime.

The beauty of illustration is that it’s not limited to tally marks, drawn coins, or other written symbols on a piece of paper. Online math programs can produce interactive images that can help students solve math word problems.

Actual objects can be used as well: Cubes, toothpicks, and plastic coins are among the favorite accessories of classrooms; the possibilities at home are even more abundant.

Ready for your child to be an awesome word problem solver? 

If your child needs extra help on word problems or any other aspect of math, Thinkster Math can help. Our personalized approach offers an at-home, digital approach that your children will love. Our curriculum is also packed with critical thinking and logical reasoning problems so that your child gets the practice they need to illustrate and visualize word problems.

Does your child love or hate math word problems?

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Sumi Chakraborty

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