Why Numberless Word Problems Are the Answer to Simple Differentiation

Word problems lend themselves so beautifully to differentiation- and yet sometimes it can seem like our most struggling learners can’t get a foot in the door. We know that searching for keywords isn’t the answer. So what is?

Simple! Numberless word problems!

Blog Header Numberless Word Problems Are the Key To Differentiation

When you implement a numberless word problems strategy, remind yourself that the focus is on helping your students to mentally visualize the action of the word problem.

The key to making that happen is questions and conversation- and this is where ALL of your learners will have the chance to participate.

How to Implement a Numberless Word Problems Strategy

  1. Start with a word problem where the numbers have been eliminated from the story. Eliminate the question as well.
  2. Present your students with the context.
  3. Ask your students what they know about what is happening in the story. What are they wondering about?
  4. Slowly introduce more information to your students – but don’t skip to calculation just yet- allow your students to continue to report what they notice and are wondering about the context.
  5. Reintroduce all numbers and the question. Allow your students hands-on materials and/or space to draw and diagram as they solve.

Because you are starting from a place of “What do you know? What are you wondering?” all of your students will have an entry point to the discussion- the activity naturally differentiates as students are able to access the problem at their own level of understanding.

A Sample Numberless Word Problems Conversation

I started the morning out with some money in my wallet. I did some grocery shopping and stopped by the coffee shop. At the end of the day, I was surprised to find that I only had a bit of money left!

Teacher: Stop and think to yourself, what was this story about? [wait time] Turn and talk to a partner- what is happening in this story? [wait time] Raise your hands and share with the class- what was this story all about?

Student A: Someone who went shopping!

Student B: Someone had money, but then spent some, and then they had less money.

Teacher: Great! I noticed in the story it said “I only had a bit of money left”. What does that tell us about what happened?

Student A: They only had a little money left.

Student B: They had less money than when they started. They must have lost money during the day!

Teacher: Are there any other clues that let us know they have less money than when they started?

Student A: Yes, they went shopping! They spent their money.

If this example were to continue, the teacher would slowly reintroduce information including how much they started with and either how much they spent OR how much they ended the day with along with a question.

Had the teacher started the lesson with a question stating “I began the day with $25. I did some grocery shopping and stopped at the coffee shop. At the end of the day I only had $3 left! How much did I spend at the grocery store and coffee shop?” The door for discussion would be much more narrow!

Students who understood the question and calculation would be itching to share that they spent $22. Students who didn’t understant the question would be tuning the teacher out and hoping they can move along. Students who *could* be successful with a bit more support might just be adding $25 and $3 together because they are number pluckers and that’s what they do.

By using numberless word problems, you open the door to conversation and understanding. You present an appropriate entry point for ALL students and you even the playing field so that the activity is thought provoking and accessible to all students.

Have You Tried Numberless Word Problems Yet?

I have a free getting started guide and I would love to send it your way! I have included step by step instructions as well as discussion questions and even a few numberless word problems to get you started!

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