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This lesson provided by:
Author: Susan Jordan
System:Mobile County
School:Mobile County Board Of Education
Lesson Plan ID: 33127

What's the Question Again?


This lesson focuses on problem solving strategies with word problems that are 2 or more steps. Students are forced through the strategies to focus on the content of a problem before attempting to answer the "question" which tells what they are to solve. Visualization and communication are reinforced throughout the lesson. The strategies are generic. Included are problems for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade computation.  However, these same strategies can be used for all grade levels.

This is a College- and Career-Ready Standards showcase lesson plan.

Content Standard(s):
MA2013(3) 8. Solve two-step word problems using the four operations. Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity. Assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies including rounding. (This standard is limited to problems posed with whole numbers and having whole-number answers; students should know how to perform operations in the conventional order when there are no parentheses to specify a particular order (Order of Operations).) [3-OA8]
MA2013(4) 2. Multiply or divide to solve word problems involving multiplicative comparison, e.g., by using drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem, distinguishing multiplicative comparison from additive comparison. (See Appendix A, Table 2.) [4-OA2]
MA2013(4) 3. Solve multistep word problems posed with whole numbers and having whole-number answers using the four operations, including problems in which remainders must be interpreted. Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity. Assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies including rounding. [4-OA3]
MA2013(5) 12. Solve word problems involving addition and subtraction of fractions referring to the same whole, including cases of unlike denominators, e.g., by using visual fraction models or equations to represent the problem. Use benchmark fractions and number sense of fractions to estimate mentally, and assess the reasonableness of answers. [5-NF2]
MA2013(5) 16. Solve real-world problems involving multiplication of fractions and mixed numbers, e.g., by using visual fraction models or equations to represent the problem. [5-NF6]
Local/National Standards:  
Primary Learning Objective(s):

  • Identify information from a word problem.
  • Make inferences from implied information in a word problem.
  • Solve 1-, 2-, or 3 step word problems involving appropriate grade level computation.
  • Explain strategies for problem solving.

Essential Question:  How can I look at what is in a word problem to help me decide how to solve it?

Additional Learning Objective(s):  
Approximate Duration of the Lesson: 31 to 60 Minutes
Materials and Equipment:

chart paper, markers, document camera and overhead projector 


What Do We Know handout (1 per group), pencil, Group Problem Solving handout,  one problem envelope per group, glue stick per group

Technology Resources Needed:

Document camera and overhead projector



  • Use problem from provided Whole Class Problem sheet. Write the story information of the problem on 3 different pieces of chart paper. Do NOT write the question yet.
  • Based on the number of groups, select problems from the grade level problems included.  In a Word document (or write on index cards) type the each problem selected from grade level problems included. Make sure to separate the story information from the question. (Example: story information is separated from the question by 2-3 lines.) Cut each problem into strips. Using an envelope, seal the question for the problem in the envelope and paper clip the question outside. Number each envelope. 


  1. Begin lesson by telling students that this lesson will be about solving word problems.  State the essential question or the objective if school does not use essential question.
  2. Tell students they will be learning strategies for looking at the information in a word problem and using it to determine how to solve the problem. 
  3. Put students into small groups of 3 or 4 for discussion and work. Make sure each pair/group has What Do We Know (WDWK) handout and pencils.
  4. Show students the first piece of chart paper for problem one with the story information on it. Ask, "What is unusual about this problem?" Students should notice that they don't know what they are supposed to solve or find out. Let them know that in this lesson, they will be looking at problems without the question to help them know how to solve the problem.
  5. Read the information and discuss with students what the problem is about. Do not get into problem details yet. (3 -4 minutes)
  6. Ask each group to talk and list on their WDWK handout what they know from the problem. Teacher should monitor and use questioning to guide students to list as much information as possible. (3-4 minutes)
  7. As a whole group, write one piece of information from each group on the bottom of the first chart paper. (4 - 5 minutes)
  8. Post the next sheet of chart paper with the story information.  
  9. Ask groups to talk and come up a list of questions that might be asked based on the story information. They should record it on the WDWK handout. (3-4 minutes)
  10. Discuss as a whole group and list the questions students wrote on their sheets on the bottom of the second piece of chart paper. Be sure to ask students why they predicted the questions they did. Questions and explanations should be reasonable and logical. (5 minutes)
  11. Post the 3rd piece of chart paper with story information. Write at the bottom the question that originally went with the problem. Discuss if any of the questions they predicted were the same. (2 minutes)
  12. Tell students to work in their groups to solve the problem. Teacher should circulate and look for and identify various methods by groups to solve the problem. Solutions should be recorded on the WDWK handout. (3 -5 minutes)
  13. Based on selections, allow groups to share.  (5 minutes)
  14. Ask questions like, "Did everyone solve the problems the same?; What method for solving was the most efficient?; Which method took the longest?; How are the methods alike?; How are they different?, What information in the problem helped you to know what to do?; What kind of computation was done, adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing? Did you use more than one type of computation?"  The focus should be on students knowing the information and using it to solve the problem. (3- 4 minutes)
  15. NOTE: If teacher feels students did not fully master this the first time, skip the next few steps and repeat steps 4 - 14.
  16. Tell groups they will work together to solve their own problem.  Distribute a Group Problem Solving (GPS) handout and a problem envelope to each group.
  17. Go over assignment with groups.  They are to take the story information slip from outside the envelope and glue it to the top of the GPS handout. Next, complete solving the problem like you did as a whole group and follow steps on handout. Teacher should circulate, assess, and assist as needed. (10 - 15 minutes)
  18. Do a whole group share with selected problems.  Allow student groups to share on the document camera how they solve their problem. Post all problems for students to see throughout the week. (5- 8 minutes)
  19. Assign exit slip. (3 - 4 minutes)

NOTE: This approach can be introduced in one lesson. However, if teachers wish to continue working with students on this, it may be spread out over a period of 5 days and used as a Problem of the Week with only 5-10 minutes spent on each portion a day. The problem would not be solved completely for 5 days. 

Attachments:**Some files will display in a new window. Others will prompt you to download. GroupProblemSolving.handout.pdf
Assessment Strategies:

Exit Slip with word problem.


Students who can already problem solve with a provided problem, can be given an equation or expression and told to write their own word problems. 


If there are students who struggle with the problems provided, simpler problems or numbers should be used. Also, direct assistance with teacher can be done during independent small group activity.

Each area below is a direct link to general teaching strategies/classroom accommodations for students with identified learning and/or behavior problems such as: reading or math performance below grade level; test or classroom assignments/quizzes at a failing level; failure to complete assignments independently; difficulty with short-term memory, abstract concepts, staying on task, or following directions; poor peer interaction or temper tantrums, and other learning or behavior problems.

Presentation of Material Environment
Time Demands Materials
Attention Using Groups and Peers
Assisting the Reluctant Starter Dealing with Inappropriate Behavior

Be sure to check the student's IEP for specific accommodations.
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