# 20 Effective Math Strategies To Approach Problem-Solving

**Math strategies for problem-solving help students use a range of approaches to solve many different types of problems. It involves identifying the problem and carrying out a plan of action to find the answer to mathematical problems. **

Problem-solving skills are essential to math in the general classroom and real-life. They require logical reasoning and critical thinking skills. Students must be equipped with strategies to help them find solutions to problems.

This article explores mathematical problem solving strategies, logical reasoning and critical thinking skills to help learners with solving math word problems independently in real-life situations.

## What are problem-solving strategies?

Problem-solving strategies in math are methods students can use to figure out solutions to math problems. Some problem-solving strategies:

- Draw a model
- Use different approaches
- Check the inverse to make sure the answer is correct

Students need to have a toolkit of math problem-solving strategies at their disposal to provide different ways to approach math problems. This makes it easier to find solutions and understand math better.

Strategies can help guide students to the solution when it is difficult ot know when to start.

The ultimate guide to problem solving techniques

Download these ready-to-go problem solving techniques that every student should know. Includes printable tasks for students including challenges, short explanations for teachers with questioning prompts.

Download Free Now!### 20 Math Strategies For Problem-Solving

Different problem-solving math strategies are required for different parts of the problem. It is unlikely that students will use the same strategy to understand and solve the problem.

Here are 20 strategies to help students develop their problem-solving skills.

### Strategies to understand the problem

Strategies that help students understand the problem before solving it helps ensure they understand:

- The context
- What the key information is
- How to form a plan to solve it

Following these steps leads students to the correct solution and makes the math word problem easier.

Here are five strategies to help students understand the content of the problem and identify key information.

#### 1. Read the problem aloud

Read a word problem aloud to help understand it. Hearing the words engages auditory processing. This can make it easier to process and comprehend the context of the situation.

#### 2. Highlight keywords

When keywords are highlighted in a word problem, it helps the student focus on the essential information needed to solve it. Some important keywords help determine which operation is needed.

For example, if the word problem asks how many are left, the problem likely requires subtraction.

Ensure students highlight the keywords carefully and do not highlight every number or keyword. There is likely irrelevant information in the word problem.

#### 3. Summarize the information

Read the problem aloud, highlight the key information and then summarize the information. Students can do this in their heads or write down a quick summary.

Summaries should include only the important information and be in simple terms that help contextualize the problem.

#### 4. Determine the unknown

A common problem that students have when solving a word problem is misunderstanding what they are solving. Determine what the unknown information is before finding the answer.

Often, a word problem contains a question where you can find the unknown information you need to solve. For example, in the question ‘How many apples are left?’ students need to find the number of apples left over.

#### 5. Make a plan

Once students understand the context of the word problem, have dentified the important information and determined the unknown, they can make a plan to solve it.

The plan will depend on the type of problem. Some problems involve more than one step to solve them as some require more than one answer.

Encourage students to make a list of each step they need to take to solve the problem before getting started.

### Strategies for solving the problem

#### 1. Draw a model or diagram

Students may find it useful to draw a model, picture, diagram, or other visual aid to help with the problem solving process.

It can help to visualize the problem to understand the relationships between the numbers in the problem. In turn, this helps students see the solution.

Similarly, you could draw a model to represent the objects in the problem:

#### 2. Act it out

This particular strategy is applicable at any grade level but is especially helpful in math investigation in elementary school. It involves a physical demonstration or students acting out the problem using movements, concrete resources and math manipulatives.

When students act out a problem, they can visualize and contectualize the word problem in another way and secure an understanding of the math concepts.

The examples below show how 1st-grade students could “act out” an addition and subtraction problem:

The problem | How to act out the problem |

Gia has 6 apples. Jordan has 3 apples. How many apples do they have altogether? | Two students use counters to represent the apples. One student has 6 counters and the other student takes 3. Then, they can combine their “apples” and count the total. |

Michael has 7 pencils. He gives 2 pencils to Sarah. How many pencils does Michael have now? | One student (“Michael”) holds 7 pencils, the other (“Sarah”) holds 2 pencils. The student playing Michael gives 2 pencils to the student playing Sarah. Then the students count how many pencils Michael is left holding. |

#### 3. Work backwards

Working backwards is a popular problem-solving strategy. It involves starting with a possible solution and deciding what steps to take to arrive at that solution.

This strategy can be particularly helpful when students solve math word problems involving multiple steps. They can start at the end and think carefully about each step taken as opposed to jumping to the end of the problem and missing steps in between.

For example,

To solve this problem working backwards, start with the final condition, which is Sam’s grandmother’s age (71) and work backwards to find Sam’s age.

Subtract 20 from the grandmother’s age, which is 71.

Then, divide the result by 3 to get Sam’s age.

71 – 20 = 51

51 ÷ 3 = 17

Sam is 17 years old.

#### 4. Write a number sentence

When faced with a word problem, encourage students to write a number sentence based on the information. This helps translate the information in the word problem into a math equation or expression, which is more easily solved.

It is important to fully understand the context of the word problem and what students need to solve before writing an equation to represent it.

#### 5. Use a formula

Specific formulas help solve many math problems. For example, if a problem asks students to find the area of a rug, they would use the area formula (area = length × width) to solve.

Make sure students know the important mathematical formulas they will need in tests and real-life. It can help to display these around the classroom or, for those who need more support, on students’ desks.

### Strategies for checking the solution

Once the problem is solved using an appropriate strategy, it is equally important to check the solution to ensure it is correct and makes sense.

There are many strategies to check the solution. The strategy for a specific problem is dependent on the problem type and math content involved.

Here are five strategies to help students check their solutions.

#### 1. Use the Inverse Operation

For simpler problems, a quick and easy problem solving strategy is to use the inverse operation.

For example, if the operation to solve a word problem is 56 ÷ 8 = 7 students can check the answer is correct by multiplying 8 × 7.

As good practice, encourage students to use the inverse operation routinely to check their work.

#### 2. Estimate to check for reasonableness

Once students reach an answer, they can use estimation or rounding to see if the answer is reasonable.

Round each number in the equation to a number that’s close and easy to work with, usually a multiple of ten.

For example, if the question was 216 ÷ 18 and the quotient was 12, students might round 216 to 200 and round 18 to 20. Then use mental math to solve 200 ÷ 20, which is 10.

When the estimate is clear the two numbers are close. This means your answer is reasonable.

#### 3. Plug-In Method

This method is particularly useful for algebraic equations. Specifically when working with variables.

To use the plug-in method, students solve the problem as asked and arrive at an answer. They can then plug the answer into the original equation to see if it works. If it does, the answer is correct.

For example,

If students use the equation 20m+80=300 to solve this problem and find that m = 11, they can plug that value back into the equation to see if it is correct.

20m + 80 = 300

20 (11) + 80 = 300

220 + 80 = 300

300 = 300 ✓

#### 4. Peer Review

Peer review is a great tool to use at any grade level as it promotes critical thinking and collaboration between students.

The reviewers can look at the problem from a different view as they check to see if the problem was solved correctly.

Problem solvers receive immediate feedback and the opportunity to discuss their thinking with their peers.

This strategy is effective with mixed-ability partners or similar-ability partners. In mixed-ability groups, the partner with stronger skills provides guidance and support to the partner with weaker skills, while reinforcing their own understanding of the content and communication skills.

If partners have comparable ability levels and problem-solving skills, they may find that they approach problems differently or have unique insights to offer each other about the problem-solving process.

#### 5. Use a Calculator

A calculator can be introduced at any grade level but may be best for older students who already have a foundational understanding of basic math operations.

Provide students with a calculator to allow them to check their solutions independently, accurately, and quickly.

Since calculators are so readily available on smartphones and tablets, they allow students to develop practical skills that apply to real-world situations.

### Step-by-step problem-solving processes for your classroom

In his book, *How to Solve It*, published in 1945, mathematician George Polya introduced a 4-step process to solve problems.

Polya’s 4 steps include:

- Understand the problem
- Devise a plan
- Carry out the plan
- Look back

Today, in the style of George Polya, many problem-solving strategies use various acronyms and steps to help students recall.

Many teachers create posters and anchor charts of their chosen process to display in their classrooms. They can be implemented in any elementary, middle school or high school classroom.

Here are 5 problem-solving strategies to introduce to students and use in the classroom.

### How Third Space Learning improves problem-solving

#### Resources

Third Space Learning offers a free resource library is filled with hundreds of high-quality resources. A team of experienced math experts carefully created each resource to develop students mental arithmetic, problem solving and critical thinking.

Explore the range of problem solving resources for 2nd to 8th grade students.

#### One-on-one tutoring

Third Space Learning offers one-on-one math tutoring to help students improve their math skills. Highly qualified tutors deliver high-quality lessons aligned to state standards.

Former teachers and math experts write all of Third Space Learning’s tutoring lessons. Expertly designed lessons follow a “my turn, follow me, your turn” pedagogy to help students move from guided instruction and problem-solving to independent practice.

Throughout each lesson, tutors ask higher-level thinking questions to promote critical thinking and ensure students are developing a deep understanding of the content and problem-solving skills.

#### Problem-solving

Educators can use many different strategies to teach problem-solving and help students develop and carry out a plan when solving math problems. Incorporate these math strategies into any math program and use them with a variety of math concepts, from whole numbers and fractions to algebra.

Teaching students how to choose and implement problem-solving strategies helps them develop mathematical reasoning skills and critical thinking they can apply to real-life problem-solving.

**READ MORE**: 8 Common Core math examples

#### FAQs

**What are 5 strategies of problem-solving?***There are many different strategies for problem-solving; Here are 5 problem-solving strategies:*

• *draw a model *

• *act it out *

• *work backwards *

• *write a number sentence*

• *use a formula*

**What are 10 strategies of problem-solving?***Here are 10 strategies of problem-solving:*

• *Read the problem aloud*

• *Highlight keywords*

• *Summarize the information*

• *Determine the unknown*

• *Make a plan*

• *Draw a model *

• *Act it out *

• *Work backwards *

• *Write a number sentence*

• *Use a formula*

**What are the four steps of problem-solving?***1. Understand the problem**2. Devise a plan**3. Carry out the plan**4. Look back*

**What are some strategies you can use to solve challenging math problems?***Some strategies you can use to solve challenging math problems are: breaking the problem into smaller parts, using diagrams or models, applying logical reasoning, and trying different approaches.*