By fifth grade, most students have accumulated an impressive array of math knowledge, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and measurements. Subsequently, 5th grade math word problems take what kids have learned and apply it to new challenges. After all, a word problem is simply a real-world situation that requires math.
Yet, many children struggle with 5th grade math word problems—even kids who are proficient at the underlying concepts. But word problems are not going away: Students will encounter them on homework sheets, on standardized tests, and in real life.
Take a look at the sample math word problem below and follow our 5 tips to help your child solve 5th grade math word problems:
Isabella owns a taco stand. Every day, she sells 50 tacos for a $1 each, 30 burritos for $2 each, and 15 chimichangas for $3 each. She doesn’t work Sundays or Mondays. What food will bring in the most total money per week?
Identify the Numbers
First, ask your fifth-grader to extract the numbers from the problem. Encourage him or her to write these numbers out separately or even draw them if it helps. With the sample problem, we get:
- She sells 50 tacos a day.
- Tacos are $1 each.
- She sells 30 burritos a day.
- Burritos are $2 each.
- She sells 15 chimichangas a day.
- Chimichangas are $3 each.
- She works 5 days a week (knowing there are 7 days in a week and she takes Sundays and Mondays off).
Determine Which Functions the Problem Is Asking For
Next, direct your student to figure out what function is required. Ask them to look for keywords which offer hints as to whether addition, subtraction, multiplication or another function can be applied to the problem. In this case, “total” and “each” are giveaways that you will be multiplying. Furthermore, “most” implies you are comparing numbers.
Cross Out Unnecessary Words
If all the verbiage is confusing your child, it can simply be crossed out so that just the important facts of the word problem remain. Here, the first sentence about Isabella’s taco stand can be struck through.
Come Up with an Equation(s)
With the sample problem, because you have to determine which food brings in the most money per week, 3 equations will be required before deciding which is the greatest. Ask your child to look at the numbers and functions they’ve identified (and maybe wrote down separately) to arrive at the following equations:
- 50 tacos, $1 each, and 5 days becomes 50x1x5
- 30 burritos, $2 each, and 5 days becomes 30x2x5
- 15 chimichangas, $3 each, and 5 days becomes 15x3x5
Solve and Check Your Work
After your child solves the problem (the answer to our sample is burritos, which took in $300 a week compared with $250 for tacos and $225 for chimichangas), challenge him or her to check the work. In this case, dividing the $300 earned on burritos by 5 (days) and 2 (dollars) will produce 20 burritos, just as the original word problem stated. Besides confirming the answer, checking the work makes the problem-solving process more understandable.
Students will encounter math word problems throughout their lives. Helping your child deconstruct a variety of real world math problems will help them gain math confidence in the short-term and give them a skill that will last a lifetime.
Does your child struggle with 5th grade math word problems? Share your story in the comments.