EL Support Lesson

Word Problem Comprehension

Make sure your students understand the word problem before they begin to solve it! Use this as a stand alone lesson or a pre-lesson for *Two-Step Word Problems with Mixed-Operations - Gamified!*
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Two-Step Word Problems with Mixed Operations - Gamified! lesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Two-Step Word Problems with Mixed Operations - Gamified! lesson plan.

Students will be able to solve two-step, mixed operation word problems.


Students will be able to analyze the meaning of word problems and plan to solve them using a graphic organizer.

(3 minutes)
  • Invite students to a common area in the classroom with their whiteboard and whiteboard marker. Tell them that you want to play a word association game. You will write a word on the board and they will draw the first thing that comes to mind when you say the word aloud. There will be no talking during this game until the class discusses answers.
  • Write the word "operation" on the board and instruct students to draw an image on their whiteboard of the first thing that comes to mind. Give them about one minute to do this.
  • Discuss students' word associations for the word, and point out that this word has multiple meanings. Mention that an operation is a procedure that doctors do to help someone get better, and it's also a number process in mathematics. Discuss any additional associations students made based on the way the word sounds (e.g., opposite, opinion). Today's lesson will be about looking at the word problems and determining the mathematical operations, which are the number processes such as adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, to use.
(10 minutes)
  • Explain to students that word problems are a way that we can see how math is helpful in our everyday lives. We have to work on our comprehension of the word problems and make sure we understand it so that we can determine how to solve the problem.
  • Introduce the remainder of the tiered words for the lesson by going over the Vocabulary Cards. Display the card, image, and definition for students to see and repeat out loud. Ask them to turn and talk to a partner about an example of each of the words. Provide a sentence frame for students to use as they share with the class, such as "An example of ____ is ____."
  • Focus on the four operations and point out that some word problems require you to use more than one operation to solve it. Provide an example on the board, such as:
    • Elysabeth has 5 boxes of 4 magnets. Two of the boxes are full of square magnets. How many magnets are not square?
  • Share that sometimes word problems can be confusing when there is more than one step. Display a copy of the Word Problem Comprehension Chart, and tell the class that using this chart will help to tackle the problem in small steps so that we can make sure we understand. Emphasize the fact that good mathematicians reread their word problems a few times in order to get all the important information.
  • Explain that you will read the problem three times aloud, each time with a different focus that will help you figure out what the word problem is asking. After each read aloud, you will fill in one of the columns on the chart.
  • Read aloud the problem again with the goal of comprehending the text. Say, "I'm going to read this aloud and focus only on the situation. I'm not even going to pay attention to the numbers right now." Write down notes in the left section of the graphic organizer using words and pictures. Instruct students to pick out any unfamiliar words they wish to clarify during this step.
  • Tell the class that you will read the problem aloud again with the goal of analyzing the language used. Say, "Now I'm going to read it with a different focus. I want to figure out what words are important. Which words are going to help me figure out what operations to use?" Underline or highlight keywords in the word problem, and record notes in the center column of the graphic organizer.
  • Complete a third read aloud with the goal of brainstorming possible solution methods. Say, "So now that I understand the word problem, how am I going to solve this? What is my plan?" Put mathematical expressions in the right column of the graphic organizer (e.g. 5 x 4; 2 x 4)
  • Model solving the problem and stating the answer in a complete sentence. (e.g., There are 12 magnets that are not square.)
(10 minutes)
  • Distribute a copy of the Word Problem Comprehension Chart to each student.
  • Review the sections of the graphic organizer and discuss the process for how to make sure we understand the word problem. Call on nonvolunteers to explain, and provide sentence stems to aid in explanation, such as "In this section of the graphic organizer, I put ____."
  • Display the following word problem and explain that the class will work together to complete the graphic organizer with information to ensure comprehension:
    • Romeo made 6 trays of popsicles. Each tray makes 8 popsicles. He gave 5 friends a popsicle. How many popsicles does he have left over?
  • Lead the class through the process of reading the word problem three times aloud, each with a different focus according to the graphic organizer. Provide sentence stems for students to use for each section as they are sharing their thoughts about what information to record.
  • Instruct students to turn and talk with a shoulder partner about the answer to the problem, and call on students to share an answer in a complete sentence. Provide a sentence frame, such as "Romeo has ____ popsicles left over."
(10 minutes)
  • Divide the class into small groups and tell them that they will each receive one word problem to work on. Then, they will explain their process to the rest of the class.
  • Give each group a word problem from the Word Problems in the Arctic: Multi-Step Mixed Operations worksheet.
  • Display the following steps for students to reference throughout their group work time:
    • First Read: What is happening in the problem? Focus on words, not numbers!
    • Second Read: Look for the keywords. What are the keywords that help you decide which operation to use?
    • Third Read: What is your plan for solving this problem?
  • Circulate and support students as they follow the process, discuss, and complete the graphic organizer.
  • Have groups share their problem and graphic organizers with the rest of the class if time allows.


  • Allow access to reference materials in home language (L1).
  • Have learners repeat instructions and key vocabulary to the teacher.
  • Provide a word bank of key terms and phrases for students to use in group and class discussions.
  • Group students intentionally based on academic and language needs.


  • Allow learners to utilize glossaries and dictionaries for unfamiliar words.
  • Encourage students to complete the graphic organizer without sentence stems.
  • Choose advanced ELs to share their ideas first in group and class discussions.
  • Have learners repeat instructions and key vocabulary, summarizing important information for the class.
(5 minutes)
  • Put students into partnerships and have them respond to the following questions using the sentence stems:
    • Why is it important to work on comprehension in math? (It is important to work on comprehension in math because ____.)
    • How was the strategy of Three Reads helpful to you? (The Three Reads strategy was helpful for me because ____.)
    • Which part of the strategy was most helpful to you? (The part of the strategy that was most helpful for me was ____.)
  • Provide feedback and ask for clarification as needed while circulating and observing. Record any excellent discussion points students make in partnerships to share during the Closing.
(2 minutes)
  • Share notes that you recorded while observing partnerships discuss the Assessment questions.
  • Remind the class that good mathematicians read word problems a few times to make sure they understand what the problem is asking. When they comprehend the problem, they are able to solve it and find an answer.

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