Fourth Grade Math: Exploring Word Problems
Characteristics
Solving word problems takes skill, attention to detail, and a good problem solving strategy. Fourth grade math word problems usually involve one of the basic math operations - addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. It is not uncommon to see two operation types in one problem, but generally speaking there is often only one operation involved. The word problems themselves require either a one or two step calculation to correctly solve the question, and they are characterized by real world scenarios familiar to a 4th grade student.
Examples
A one-step problem may be as simples as, "Jack has $4.25 and Kayla has $3.80. How much money do they have altogether?" This straightforward problem merely requires the students to add the two amounts of money together. At the beginning of fourth grade, this would be an appropriate example of 4th grade math word problems. A more advanced one-step problem would be, "A friend tells you that they will be 405 weeks old on their next birthday. How old is that in years?"
Two-step word problems require more effort. For instance, "Michael ate 12 cookies, while his sister ate 9 cookies. If mom baked 56 cookies, how many are left?" Again this would be a word problem students may encounter at the beginning of 4th grade. More taxing problems could include the likes of, "A sign before a bridge says 'weight limit 2 Tons.' The pickup truck weighs 1,675 lb, and has a bag of sand that weighs 400 lb in the back. The driver weighs 175 lb. Should he drive the truck across the bridge?"
Strategies
There are many different strategies for solving this type of problem, but the one that I have had the most success with is a four-step problem solving strategy.
- Understand: What are you being asked to find out? Students need to identify the outcome of the problem and keep this in mind as they are working towards a solution.
- Plan: What are you going to have to do to solve this problem? Will you need to guess and check? What operation(s) are involved? Will you draw a picture to help you? Can you make an estimate?
- Solve: If the plan is sound, then this is the stage where you put it into action
- Check: Look at your answer. Does it answer the question? Is it a reasonable answer? Is there a way to check and see if your answer is correct?
Resources
A good place to find examples of 4th grade math word problems is the Primary Resources website. Here you will find a selection of free PDF, Word, and SMART Notebook files to download. It is an English site, so the equivalent US grade level is Year 5, but feel free to move up and down a grade to suit the abilities of your children. SMART Board users should also check out the resources on the SMART Exchange website. It has a selection of problems and teaching strategies for download. Abcteach.com also has another reasonably good selection of word problems that you can print out. If copyright allows, you can also run some of these PDFs through a free converter like www.pdftoword.com and then you will be free to edit any of the numbers to suit your needs.
Differentiation
Word problems are relatively easy to differentiate by just changing the numbers in the story - larger numbers for the more gifted children, and smaller numbers for your less able students. You can also add or remove steps. One step problems are less work, and easier to solve, than two-step problems, so save those for your lower ability students, and add steps to challenge your gifted and talented children.
4th grade math word problems may seem like a chore to some students, but practice and perseverance is the keys to success. For more information on what is taught in 4th Grade Math, read 4th Grade Skills: What Every 4th Grader Needs to Know.