October 2, 2023
Elementary education

Math Word Problems using CUBES Math Strategy

Do your students need help tackling word problems? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Word problems can be overwhelming, especially for struggling students. But no worries, the CUBES math strategy is here to save the day!

What is the CUBES Math Strategy

The CUBES math strategy is a simple tool that teachers can teach their students to provide them with step-by-step actionable steps to pick apart and understand what is being asked in a story problem. Each letter of CUBES represents an actionable item that students will do to their word problems.

• C is for Circle the Numbers
• U is for Underline the Question
• B is for Box the KeyWords
• E is for Eliminate the Extra Information
• S is for Solve and Check the Problem

Math Word Problems

Word problems are a staple in math lessons because they reflect real-life situations. Sure, some problems may seem ridiculous (like buying 60 watermelons – big eye roll here), but others offer valuable and meaningful learning opportunities. The challenge lies in the variety and complexity of word problems. Upper elementary students run into super challenging multi-step problems that can leave them scratching their heads.

As a teacher, it’s essential to differentiate your instruction to meet the needs of all learners. That’s where the CUBES math strategy comes in. Using this strategy, you can provide struggling students with a concrete step-by-step approach to word problems. Say goodbye to frustration and hello to success!

Incorporating the CUBES math strategy is easy. Start by presenting the lesson to the whole class, but keep a close eye on your strugglers. Pull them into a small group to give them the extra support they need before they become overwhelmed by the assignment.

CUBES Math Word Problem Strategy

For the small group instruction, provide students with CUBES reference cards. These cards outline the essential steps of the CUBES strategy and provide a handy reminder throughout problem-solving sessions. You can find these cards in the CUBES Math Word Problem Strategy Kit – a resource for effectively teaching word problems.

I love these CUBES math strategy posters to teach concrete steps and strategies to my students – especially my struggling students. Without concrete steps, I’ve found that strugglers have no idea about solving story problems, so they give up – and that’s what we DON’T want them to do! All of those words are scary and overwhelming. This step-by-step strategy teaches students how to deal with all that information.

Step 1: Read the problem out loud.

Read the problem aloud. Then reread it, emphasizing comprehension. Students must read or hear the problem multiple times before picking up a pencil. They need to visualize – what’s happening in the problem. Here’s the clincher – don’t let them off the hook! Make them state out loud what they understand from the problem. Remember that sometimes students can’t explain the problem because they genuinely don’t understand what is happening.

My low readers often don’t digest the information as they’re reading. Word problems call on many skills: comprehension, sorting out needed and unneeded information, deciding on the operation, etc. It’s hard for students to organize their thoughts at this point – but that’s what we need them to do. And that’s precisely why they must read and reread the problem until they understand what’s happening.

Break the problem down sentence by sentence if needed. Allow thinking time to can fully understand the problem and the steps. And that’s the problem for us as teachers. All the reading and discussion take time – very valuable time. It also takes practice and patience. I often adjust or differentiate assignments by giving my struggling crew fewer problems to complete. Focus on a few problems done correctly rather than several incorrect ones rushed through.

Step 2: Circle the numbers AND LABELS!

Moving on to step two, I’ve learned that labels play a crucial role in comprehension. For that reason, I instruct my students to circle the numbers AND the labels at the same time. That saves time at the end when they need to label their answer.

Step 3: Underline the question

Step three is about underlining the question and ensuring students truly understand it. Challenge them to rephrase the question in their own words. This step is vital for selecting the correct operation and solving the problem effectively. You should backtrack and reread the problem, emphasizing the question.

That’s when we have the part versus the whole discussion. What information are we given? Do we have part of something, or is it a whole/total amount? If a student doesn’t know what he’s looking for, they can’t choose the correct operation needed to solve the problem. A discussion needs to continue for understanding.

Step 4: Box the keywords

Be careful with keywords in word problems – they can be tricky! Some keywords have multiple meanings and can represent different operations. To solve the problem correctly, students must understand the context.

It’s normal for students to ask for hints and clues when identifying the necessary operation(s). However, it’s important to let them struggle to boost perseverance and critical thinking skills.

Step 5: Eliminate unnecessary information

This step requires practice because students often need help with eliminating unnecessary information. I ask students to draw one line through the information so they can still read what they crossed out. Otherwise, students may cross out needed information and then erase it so hard they tear the paper.

Some students eliminate too much, while others think everything is necessary. This step takes time and tests their comprehension and critical thinking skills.

Step 6: Draw a picture

Drawing a picture or representing the problem with a table, array, or tally marks helps students visualize the problem. Concrete manipulatives are also helpful and should be available to students who need to hold or manipulate items.

Quick sketches or visual aids like tables, arrays, or tally marks are good enough. Remind them to avoid getting too caught up in drawing a masterpiece and losing focus.

Step 7: Determine if the problem is multi-step

Students can feel confused when encountering multi-step problems. Numbering the steps by writing a 1, 2, 3, etc., near the first step of the problem helps them stay organized.

You may also have to encourage students to keep working through the problem. Often students complete only one step and expect to be finished. It’s essential to emphasize that their problems become more challenging as they progress, and they’ll have more than one step.

Step 8: Solve

Finally, students must do the actual calculations to solve the problem.

Conclusion

Teaching students how to approach and solve math word problems is important. Solving word problems is the closest math skill to math in the real world. Encouraging students to slow their thinking, examine and analyze the word problem and encourage the habit of answer checking will give your students the learning skills that can be applied to math and all learning.