Understanding Problems

For many students, mathematics word problems are just a jumble of words and numbers. A problem-solving process can help students make sense of problems. They can do this by reading the problem more than once, annotating words and numbers, visualizing the situation, converting visualizations into diagrams or mathematical expressions, and assessing the reasonableness of their solutions. All students need to apply problem solving to more and more complex situations as they move forward in their mathematical learning.

View an Introductory Presentation on Understanding Problems Strategies

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Read the Complete Understanding Problems Teaching Strategy Guide

Learning how to solve word problems requires students to understand the context and then develop a strategy to solve the problem. Students build on their ability to organize, create visual representations, and use precise language. You can help your students build on these skills and understand how to use them in specific situations (see UDL Checkpoint 6.2: Support planning and strategy development).


  1. Provide Clear Explanations
  2. Give Students Strategies and Models
  3. Provide Ongoing Formative Assessment