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Updated on Feb 9, 2011

Is your child stumped by word problems in math class? Here's an easy at-home strategy for two types of word problems that can help your child take a step back and see the big picture.

Track Down the TMI in Word Problems

One type of assignment asks students to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information, or, in essence, figure out which parts of the problem they need in order to solve it and which parts they don’t. Here’s where you can use a term kids are familiar with: T.M.I. (too much information). Explain to your child that she’s looking for the TMI in the problem. For example:

“Terri and Sara are selling Girl Scout cookies this weekend. Each box of cookies costs $3.00. Terri sells 12 boxes on Saturday and 20 boxes on Sunday. Terri sold 50 boxes last year. Sara sells 9 boxes on Saturday and 21 boxes on Sunday. How much money total did the girls make this weekend?”

Help your child break down the problem and identify what she’s looking for. She can circle or highlight sentences that contain information she needs. She needs to find out what the girls made this weekend, so she has to know what each girl sold on Saturday and Sunday. After she highlights all the info she needs, the sentence left over should be: “Terri sold 50 boxes last year.” TMI!

Find What the Word Problem is Missing

Another type of assignment will ask students to identify missing information: what do they still need to know in order to solve the problem? In this case, tell her to think about how annoying it is when a friend only gives her part of the story. Take a look at the previous example, only this time, without a key detail. For instance:

“Terri and Sara are selling Girl Scout cookies this weekend. Terri sells 12 boxes on Saturday and 20 boxes on Sunday. Terri sold 50 boxes last year. Sara sells 9 boxes on Saturday and 21 boxes on Sunday. How much money total did the girls make this weekend?”

Have your child identify what important detail is missing. She can use the same method as before, highlighting the information she needs to solve the problem. She should come to the realization that she can’t say how much money they made, because she doesn’t know how much the cookies cost!

Although word problems can be confusing, they’re actually much more relatable to the real world than linear equations. That means that whenever you’re at the supermarket, watching a ballgame, cooking dinner, or making change, there’s a word problem waiting to happen! Make it a habit to quiz your child using real world word problems. Not only will it give her practice, it will also help to connect classroom math with real life.

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