Help your students become STAR problem solvers

Teach your students how to be STAR problem solvers.  Learning problem solving steps and strategies will help them solve any word problem.

 "I don't get it!" If these are the first words your kids say with they see a math word problem, then you need to teach them how to be a STAR!

I truly believe that every student can be a star with problem solving if they're taught the proper steps.  You need to show student how to read and understand the problem, much like you teach comprehension during your reading lessons.  I use the good ol' I do it, we do it, you do it  model when I'm teaching math problem solving.

I do it-  I read and do my thinking out loud so the whole class can hear my thoughts and the questions I'm asking myself. I show them how I figure out what the story problem is asking and how to pull out the important information.  Then I model one of the problem solving strategies, find the solution and most importantly, go back to review and check my answer.
We do it- First I'll read the problem and ask some of the thinking aloud questions and let the students respond.  Gradually, I'll lead them to do the think aloud part.  After we've figured out what the problem is asking and pulled out the important information we'll choose a strategy and solve the problem.  I may have them solve the problem with a partner or on their own.  Then we share solutions, making sure to discuss that there is usually more than one way to solve a problem.  We always end with a review and answer check, which I consider one of the most important steps in this process. 
You do it- Now the students are ready to solve a word problem on their own.  At first they'll need visual and verbal cues for the steps, but gradually, these steps should become automatic.  I also begin the You do it phase with partners and move on to individual work later.

These problem solving steps follow the acronym-STAR, 

  • Stop and read the problem,
  • Think about a strategy, 
  • Act, or carry out the strategy and solve the problem
  • Review the problem and check your answer.

 STAR problem solving sign, freebie! Remind students to stop, think, act and review as they're solving problems.
(click for free image)

The STAR steps are taught at the same time you teach the eight basic strategies; use manipulatives, draw a picture, make an organized list, find a pattern, make a table or chart, guess and check, use logical reasoning and work backwards.  These strategies will help students solve almost any word problem they will ever come across.  I do not teach key words!  Not all word problems have key words and not all word problems require an addition, subtraction, multiplication or division equation.

Some strategies work better with certain problems, but most word problems can be solved using several different strategies.  After teaching and practicing all the strategies I allow students to chose the strategies they want to use for each problem.

I think the easiest strategy to begin with is using manipulatives.  This is a very concrete way for students to visualize what is going on in they problems.  The manipulatives can be little blocks, teddy bear counters, clocks, coins or anything that can be moved around to "act out" the problem.

After using manipulatives I usually teach the strategy draw a picture. I think this strategy is my favorite.  I'm a visual learning and sketching out the information helps me make sense of the problem.

The other strategies can be taught in any order.  I do suggest that you spend several days or a week on each strategy before introducing a new one.  Once all the strategies are taught then I let them choose the strategy they want for each problem.  Like I pointed out before, most problems can be solved in multiple ways.  Some kids will even use parts of two or three different strategies.  One think I require is that they be able to explain their thinking.  They need to be able to tell what they did and why.

To help students remember these steps I display signs that have graphics with the steps.
 To help guide the students through each step I created a page with room to write or paste one problem at the top and then boxes for students to respond to each STAR step.  
Students have to
-Read the problem and write down what it's asking.
-Decide on a strategy they want to use.
-Show their thinking as they carry out the plan.
-Make sure they answered the question and justify their answer.
As student get more proficient with solving word problems I do not require them to write out all of this information, but it really helps when they are first learning to be a STAR problem solver.

These pages are available from my TPT store.
 Help your student become STAR problem solvers.  Teach them how to read the problems carefully so they know what the problem is asking and to find the important information.

I know your students can become STAR problem solvers once they learn these four steps and have success using the eight strategies!

Happy Problem Solving!

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