Word Problems Strategies and Work Mats

A recent question in our Facebook Community sparked this post as I realized I have never shared our word problems strategies and work mats! So many students struggle with different aspects of word problems.  This post will share some tips for facilitating our K-2 mathematicians with word problems.

Word Problems Strategies and Word Mats

Word problems tend to separate students into the “haves” and the “have nots” for a few important skills.  First, we have reading layered with math.  Need I go further?  Secondly, operations, and finally procedures for solving.  Not only will we discuss tips for working through these areas in this post, but we will also provide weekly practice (if not more) so students become familiar with the process.

Word problems strategies and math mats

Reading Word Problems

When it comes to reading word problems, students need practice.  Just like any text we want to help students master, we need to spend time in that print.  We look for sight words, we find familiar patterns such as “how many more” or “how many are left”.  When we go through these problems by math skill repeatedly these key words and phrases tend to repeat.  We make a big deal of finding any helpful information both for reading as well as solving.  Keeping a growing anchor chart through your word problems practice with each math skill can remind students both of words they know as well as which operation may be necessary for solving.

These Kindergarten examples, both printed and digital, are from the subtraction set of word problems.  With twenty subtraction word problems for students to read, there will be patterns that emerge.  Transitioning students from digits to word form provides scaffolding.  Students who don’t know the words will notice the numbers.  Discussions can be had about subtraction and the given numbers.  Before we expect students to solve independently, we spend time facilitating, modeling, and scaffolding the entire process.

word problems strategies and work mats

word problems

Operations For Solving

Using work mats for word problems is another game-changer in building those routines and prompting students towards solving.  Because we have 20 different word problems per math strand, students become well versed in keywords and recognize what is being asked.  Direct modeling of strategies builds a conceptual understanding of the abstract word problem.  By providing the work mat with built-in strategies, we allow students to solve both with physical models or by drawing, moving, and counting.

This second grade example provides areas to make an array, equal groups, and an open number line.  Students can choose one way to solve or multiple ways.

word problems strategies and work mats

Procedures For Solving

Each grade level and set of word problems provide a variety of strategies for solving.  Students tend to become comfortable with one way to solve while content is still new, but with repeated practice, students will expand their understanding and branch out to other methods.  Placing these word problems under the document camera or projecting the digital mat allows students to watch you solve in different ways or watch their peers come up and solve in a way that is different than how they solved.  This process is called adaptive reasoning.

word problems strategies and work mats

Ways to Use

Every classroom is different.  For this reason, we purposely created word problems in multiple formats.  Below is a sample of the different ways you can use the same word problems.  Print them, place them in a plastic sleeve, project them, laminate them, or put them on a device.

word problem strategies and work mats

Word Problems for K-2

Below you can click to see the word problems for each grade level.


Word Problems KindergartenWord Problems First Grade Word Problems Second Grade



Small Group Math Instruction

Continuing the process of teaching students about strategies and procedures, this post shares ideas for small group math instruction.

small group math instruction

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