The Key to Word Problems

Contributor: Elephango Editors. Lesson ID: 12135

Sometimes solving word problems can be a real problem! The clues you need are locked in the sentence, and you need some simple detective work to find them. Play some online games to sharpen your wits!


Arithmetic, Operations and Algebraic Thinking

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Skill Sharpener

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start

Word problems can be puzzling, but there are "key" words to help you unlock the solution!

Word problems are like a giant puzzle. So, how do you know how to solve the puzzle?

  • First, look at what the problem is asking you. What do you need to find?
  • Next, decide which operation you will use to solve the problem. Will you add, subtract, multiply, or divide?

How do you know which operation to use? Each word problem uses keywords, or clues, that can help you.

  • Can you think of some words that would tell you to add?
  • What are some words that mean to subtract?

Make a list of keywords that will help you decide if you should add, subtract, multiply, or divide.

Now, see if you can spot your answers in the keywords below:

Addition Words

  • sum
  • altogether
  • in all
  • total
  • combined

Subtraction Words

  • minus
  • fewer
  • less than
  • left
  • difference
  • remain

Multiplication Words

  • product
  • multiply
  • each
  • times
  • twice
  • double

Division Words

  • quotient
  • divide
  • each
  • split
  • average
  • equal groups
  • per

Look out for keywords in word problems with multiple steps — they can help you decide which operations to use to find the solution.

Let's look at an example:

Jessie sold 173 cups of lemonade on Friday. She sold 82 fewer cups of lemonade on Saturday than on Friday. How many cups did she sell altogether?

  • Do you see any key words?
  • Did you spot "fewer" and "altogether"?

Great job!

Now, we can solve the problem.

Step 1 Jessie sold 173 cups of lemonade on Friday. She sold 82 fewer cups of lemonade on Saturday than on Friday.

"Fewer" tells us we should subtract.

173 - 82 = 91 cups

Jessie sold 91 cups of lemonade on Saturday!

Step 2 How many cups did she sell altogether?

"Altogether" tells us we should add the number of cups she sold on Friday and Saturday.

173 + 91 = 264 cups

Our answer is 264 cups of lemonade.

Let's look at another example.

  • Can you spot the keywords?

Tia has twelve crayons. Jack has twice as many crayons as Tia. How many total crayons?

You got it! This problem uses "twice" and "total."

  • Which math operations will you use?

Correct! "Twice" tells us to multiply and "total" tells us to add. Now we can solve our problem.

Step 1 Tia has 12 crayons. Jack has twice as many crayons as Tia. "Twice" means to multiply by 2.

12 x 2 = 24 crayons

Jack has 24 crayons.

Step 2 How many total crayons? We will have to add the number of crayons from each student.

12 + 24 = 36 crayons

Tia and Jack have a total of 36 crayons.

Now, go to the Got It? section to practice some more word problems.

Image - Button Next

Elephango's Philosophy

We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.