Turning problems into pictures: Draw out word problems

I’m just about to tutor, but wanted to share with you and your child a step I’ll be covering with my student today:

Make word problems easier to understand by drawing them out.

I covered in my last post why starting at the end of a word problem is sometimes more effective than reading from the beginning. Today, let’s remember that while working through word problems, drawing away the words can also really help. A number of positives might result:

  1. Your child puts it into a shape that is easier to understand. Looking at pictures can be a LOT more enjoyable and understandable than looking at numbers.
  2. While drawing out the question, your child is literally drawing out key words and numbers that matter, separating them from those that are irrelevant, or which may be simply tricks trying to send your child the wrong way.
  3. Re-working a word problem into pictures helps the brain process the maths involved in a creative, low pressure way.

An example, you say? Sure…

Three equal boards are cut from a longer board. The leftover wood is 24 cm. Each length of cut wood is 3.5 times as long as the piece that is left over.

Q: a) How long is each cut piece?

b) How long was the original board of wood in metres?

Why don’t you and your child have a go at drawing this out?

Here’s what I tried:

It’s not an art lesson – don’t spend valuable minutes making a neat drawing no one will ever see. The idea is to sketch it quick enough for you to see what the question is asking you to do.

Personally, converting words into pictures really helps me. Yes, I teach, yes, I write books, and yes, I still work better with pictures than numbers a lot of the time. I want to get to the core of the maths as accurately and as quickly as I can. Similarly, your child wants to know what maths they need to answer each question. It sounds obvious, but in a long word problem, it’s easy to get drawn into the story inside the question.

If your child started at the end of this question (please do read the previous blog post), they hopefully saw that “what finished looks like” is a length in metres, which means that the maths they needed was logic (what is going on?), arithmetic (multiplying and adding) and then finally converting between units.

Okay, my student’s at the door. Please let me know how you get on with this step, or if you already use this strategy, please share any variations that work for you and your child. Any questions, contact me at leeat11plushappy.com. Remember to sign up in the box on the right for your free course on how to use time in the 11 Plus.

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Start learning, stay learning. Lee April 2019