EL Support Lesson

Decimal Word Problems

This lesson helps students break down the different components of a word problem with decimals so that English Learners can succeed in solving them. Use it on its own or as support for the lesson Giving Gifts: All About Decimals.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Giving Gifts: All About Decimals lesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Giving Gifts: All About Decimals lesson plan.

Students will be able to solve decimal addition problems in a real-world setting.


Students will be able to analyze word problems and their meanings, and be able to solve them using the Three Reads strategy.

(3 minutes)
  • Ask students to turn to a partner and verbally explain what a decimal is. Listen in on student conversations and guide them to the discovery that a decimal is one way to show fractions or parts of a whole. On a piece of chart paper, take notes from their conversations and add a few examples of decimals.
  • Ask students when/where they have seen fractions in the real world and jot down students' responses on the chart paper as well.
  • Explain that today students will practice a strategy called Three Reads when solving word problems with addition and subtraction of decimals.
  • Read aloud the student-friendly content and language objectives and have students repeat them.
(10 minutes)
  • Introduce the vocabulary words by displaying the Vocabulary Cards one at a time. Invite students to create a gesture to go with each vocabulary word that will help them remember its meaning. As a class, agree upon some set gestures to match each word and continue to use them throughout the lesson.
  • Read and display the following word problem: "A pound of cherries costs $3.60. Lucy wants to buy two pounds of cherries. She has a $10 bill that she will use to pay for the two pounds of fruit. How much change will Lucy get?"
  • Explain that when we read word problems, we have to first understand the word problem and what it is asking in order for us to solve it. Tell students that word problems in math present the extra challenge of testing our reading comprehension. Explain that we must comprehend or understand the sentences in a word problem so that we can solve it correctly.
  • Tell students that we will use the Three Reads strategy, along with a graphic organizer, to help us decipher the meaning of a word problem. Explain the the Three Reads strategy involves reading the word problem three times so that we can understand all components or parts of the word problem:
    • The first read is to understand the situation presented in the word problem (without thinking of the numbers).
    • The second read is to analyze the word problem and look for keywords that help determine how we might approach the problem. Explain that keywords are words that give us a clue about the operation or way to solve it.
    • The third read is to come up with a plan of solving the problem based on all the information gathered from the first two reads.
  • Display the Word Problem Comprehension Chart on the document camera and model your thinking aloud as you complete the chart for the word problem about Lucy (note that each column represents one of the "reads") following the Three Reads strategy. Have students number the columns to represent each read.
(8 minutes)
  • Distribute the Solving Decimal Word Problems worksheet and the Word Problem Comprehension Chart to students.
  • Read aloud the directions in the first worksheet. Instruct students to briefly skim the problems to identify any unknown words in the problems. Define the words for students and keep the definitions displayed throughout the lesson.
  • Place students into pairs and have them work together to solve the first two problems in the worksheet using the Three Reads strategy, while filling out the chart.
  • Call on a pair of students to come up to the document camera and share how they solved the problem using this strategy. Provide the following sentence stems for them to use as they talk about their math thinking:
    • "During the first read, we discovered..."
    • "In the second read, we identified the keywords..."
    • "After the third read, we figured out that the way to solve the problem was to..."
  • Repeat the sharing with a second pair of students for the second problem on the worksheet.
  • Correct any misunderstandings, making sure students followed the procedures for the strategy.
(10 minutes)
  • Instruct students to complete the remaining four problems with their partner while simultaneously using the graphic organizer to help them follow the strategy.
  • Check in with students during this process to ensure they are collaborating well and talking about their math processes as they read, understand, and solve the word problems.


  • Display a word/phrase bank with pertinent language to be used in the lesson. Use images and examples in the bank to help solidify understanding.
  • Provide bilingual resources such as online dictionaries or glossaries to help students look up unknown vocabulary words in their home language (L1) or in English (L2).
  • Pair students with advanced ELs who are able to assist them in the partner activity.
  • Pull aside a small group of struggling students and preteach a lesson with word problems that have a lesser linguistic load.
  • Have students repeat and rephrase the directions in the lesson.
  • Have the problems read to students.
  • Shorten the assignment so that students only have to read two of the word problems.


  • Ask students to rephrase instructions and important learning points throughout the lesson.
  • Encourage students to converse with their partners without using the sentence stems/frames for support.
  • Have them be first to share their math processes during group sharing time.
(5 minutes)
  • Combine two pairs of students to form a group of four. Have each pair choose one of the problems from the independent work section that they found challenging to discuss with the other partner. Make sure each pair has a chance to share one of the problems and how they solved it. Students should also include what part they found challenging or tricky and how they overcame the challenge.
  • Provide the following sentence stems for students to use as they share:
    • "We found this problem challenging because..."
    • "We overcame this challenge by..."
  • Circulate the room and listen in on students' conversations to check for understanding.
(4 minutes)
  • Assign new partners to students and ask them to respond to the following questions using the sentence stem/frame:
    • How was the strategy of Three Reads helpful to you? ("The Three Reads strategy was helpful for me because...")
    • Which part of the strategy do you find most important and why? ("I think the ____ part of the Three Reads strategy is the most important because...")
  • Invite students to share their responses to the questions with the whole group. Encourage students to add to their classmates' comments if they agree or discuss their reasoning if they disagree.

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