EL Support Lesson

Deciphering Division Word Problems

Word problems present an additional challenge for English learners. This division lesson gives them a concrete strategy to decipher word problems. Teach it on its own or prior to teaching Division Word Problems.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Division Word Problems lesson plan.
Grade Subject View aligned standards
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Division Word Problems lesson plan.

Students will be able to identify key division terms in word problems to help solve long division problems with one-digit divisors.


Students will be able to understand and explain division word problems using the Three Reads strategy and a graphic organizer.

(4 minutes)
  • Read aloud the following word problem to students and project it on the document camera: A parent in our school has an orange orchard. She wants to donate some of her oranges to the school. She has 198 oranges to distribute equally amongst 9 classrooms. How many oranges will each class receive?
  • Ask students if there are any unknown words in the problem and if so, provide student-friendly definitions and examples of the terms.
  • Have students turn to a table mate to discuss their understanding of the word problem and consider possible ways of solving it.
  • Affirm students' responses and guide them to the understanding that it is a division problem. Model how to solve this problem (198 oranges divided by 9 classes is equal to 22 oranges per class).
(10 minutes)
  • Tell students that today they will use the Three Reads strategy to solve division word problems. First, they will review their knowledge and understanding of some key vocabulary terms related to division.
  • Introduce each vocabulary word by displaying the vocabulary cards on the document camera. Read the word aloud, and have students read the definition aloud to a partner and model how to use the word in a sentence.
  • Give students time to use each vocabulary word in a sentence and say their sentence or example to their partner. Invite a few students to share their sentences with the whole class. Leave the vocabulary cards on display and visible for students for the remainder of the lesson.
  • Write the following problem on a piece of paper and project it on the document camera: "Four friends worked hard one summer selling homemade soaps in their neighborhood and made a total of $140. If they want to share the money equally amongst themselves, how much will each person get?"
  • Read the problem aloud, circling the numbers "140" and "four," and the word "share."
  • Ask students to turn to a partner and discuss what they think this problem is asking and how they think they could solve it.
  • Guide students to notice that this is a division problem because it asks them to equally share the money they earned together. Explain to students that division means dividing a number of items into equal groups.
  • Record students' ideas and responses on chart paper and provide feedback. Point out and validate the various strategies that students may use to solve this problem (standard algorithm, array, number line, etc.).
  • Display the Word Problem Comprehension Chart on the document camera and model out loud how you use the graphic organizer by reading the word problem three times, each for a different purpose:
    • First read: Four friends made some money together and they want to share or split the money equally.
    • Second read: The keywords include "made a total," "share," "equally," "each person get."
    • Third read: Since the friends want to share the money equally, I know I need to divide $140, the dividend, by 4, the divisor to figure out the quotient. I will use the standard algorithm to solve. (Write the solution in this column too.)
  • Tell students that using the Three Reads strategy helps us make sense of the problem so we know how to solve it. Point out that as they use this strategy and graphic organizer to solve word problems, not everyone will identify the same keywords and that this is acceptable. Sometimes there are keywords in a word problem that indicate clearly which operation we need to do while other times, it is less obvious.
  • Show students how you solve the problem using the standard algorithm to get the answer of $35. State the answer in a complete sentence by saying, "Each friend will get $35."
(8 minutes)
  • Distribute a copy of the Word Problem Comprehension Chart to each student. Tell them that they will use the graphic organizer as you demonstrated to solve multiple division word problems in partners.
  • Write out and display another word problem such as the following: "Jason has a large book collection. He has decided to donate 48 of his books to his three friends. How many books will each friend receive?"
  • Place students with an effective partner and guide them through the process of the Three Reads strategy to solve this problem. Make sure each student takes notes on the graphic organizer and follows the steps. Encourage them to use the word from the vocabulary cards displayed as they complete the worksheet and solve.
  • Ask a few students to share their graphic organizer with the whole group using a document camera. Correct any misconceptions as needed. Highlight all the different strategies students may have used to solve the problem.
(12 minutes)
  • Place students into groups of three. Distribute a set of the Division Word Problems Cards that have been cut up to each group. Remind students to take their Word Problem Comprehension Chart with them for the group work.
  • Have each student use the Three Reads strategy to complete the graphic organizer for one of the division problem cards. Then, have them share their work with their two group members.
  • Provide sentence stems for students to share their thinking with their classmates:
    • For the first read, I discovered...
    • During the second read, I found the keywords...
    • After the third read, I knew I needed to solve the problem by...
  • Tell students to repeat this process three times so that they each solve and share three problems.
  • Discuss any problems or difficulties that came up as they worked in groups on the division word problems.


  • Read aloud the word problems to students during their work time.
  • Place beginning students with helpful, more advanced ELs for partner activities.
  • Give students access to resources in their home language (L1), such an online dictionaries and glossaries, if they are literate in their L1.
  • Have students work in a small, teacher-led group during their work time.
  • Create and display a word/phrase bank with helpful terms from the lesson for students to refer to, with images if applicable.


  • Have students be the first to share their math thinking with the class.
  • Tell students to create their own division word problem for their classmate to solve.
  • Ask students to rephrase instructions and paraphrase important learning points throughout the lesson.
(4 minutes)
  • Distribute an index card to each student. Have students complete the following sentence stems on the index card:
    • "A keyword in a word problem is..."
    • "It is useful to identify keywords in a word problem because..."
  • Collect the index cards to use as a check for understanding on this word problem lesson.
(2 minutes)
  • Have students reflect on the following questions in small groups:
    • How was your experience using the Three Reads strategy to solve division word problems? ("Using the Three Reads strategy was...")
    • What are some other times you might need to use the Three Reads strategy? ("I might need to use this strategy when I...")
  • Ask students to share their thoughts with the whole class after discussing in small groups. Remind the class that reading and understanding word problems is an important part of math, so this strategy and graphic organizer are important in helping us find the answer to problems.

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