Here in the UK, we have a myriad of different approaches in solving word problems in maths. In Singapore Maths, students use a bar model to solve word problems. They take the problem apart and then create a representation of it using simple blocks. This then helps them understand the problem better and creates a lot higher success rate in solving word problems.

Here's an example:

Craig gave 15 toys to Robert and 14 toys to Tori. If Craig had 9 toys left, how many toys did he have at first.

This is quite a tricky problem for an 8 year old to understand so to simplify it, we create a bar model of the question like so:

As you can see, this has simplified the problem and we can see immediately that we need to add all three numbers together to come to the answer.

The beauty of the bar model method is that it can be applied to all four operations, ratio/proportion and fractions, decimals and percentages.

Lets have a look at an even trickier problem:

Diego has traveled 2/3 of the distance from Integer Park to Sum Central. He has 8 miles left to travel. How many miles has Diego traveled so far?

Again we can use the bar model to illustrate this problem and make it easier to solve:

The children can practise using bar models to solve problems by using this thinking blocks tool. The tool gives them a word problem and they have to draw the bar model and help this to solve the problem. I recommend using it as a full class teaching tool at first and then letting the children work through the activities themselves.


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Gary Hall Gary Hall is based in East Yorkshire, England, and has a background in education, marketing and technology. This site is a collection of ideas and resources on these topics.