Four-Square for Story Problems

2.9 based on 31 ratings
Updated on Feb 13, 2013

There is a simple way to help your fourth grader better understand what to do when faced with a story problem. It is called “Four-Square for Story Problems” and it involves students identifying key words that signal specific operations – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It begins as a quick, fun activity, but turns into a finished product that will be a study tool for years to come!

What You Need:

  • Paper/pencils
  • Markers
  • Small poster board or construction paper

What You Do:

  1. Cut 4 sheets of paper into approximately 35 cards (medium-size).
  2. Write each word/phrase below on one card:
Addition Subtraction Multiplication Division
total difference times each
altogether left multiplied by  divided by
in all fewer product of quotient of
add loss every per
combined minus at this rate  
sum less    
  1. Shuffle all cards. Next, challenge your fourth grader to sort the word cards in less than two minutes. Direct her to find the four headings and then the key words that would fit under each heading (shown above). Check her work. If her work is correct, award her with a small prize. If she made some errors, help her make corrections and try again. Give her a small consolation prize to keep her motivated!
  2. Once her chart is complete, your child is ready to make her “Four-Square”. Ask her to divide the poster board into four equal parts and create a study tool by writing each operation and its key words in a square. She should use a different color marker for each type of operation. For example, “Addition” and all of its key words in green, “Subtraction” and of all its key words in red, etc… Encourage her to be creative and fun with her “Four-Square”. She could include pictures and magazine clippings that represent the operations. When she’s finished, hang it in her room as a constant reminder of those important key words!

Tip: Continually review the key words with your child. When she has story problems for homework, ask her to identify the key words and highlight them as a reminder.

Brigid Del Carmen has a Master's Degree in Special Education with endorsements in Learning Disabilities and Behavior Disorders/Emotional Impairments. Over the past eight years, she has taught Language Arts, Reading and Math in her middle school special education classroom.

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