Why some kids struggle with math word problems

By Bob Cunningham, EdM

Word problems in math can be tricky. To get the right answer, kids have to be able to read the words, figure out what math operation to use, and then do the calculations correctly. A breakdown in any of these skills can cause trouble.

If kids seem to be good at math but struggle with word problems, here are possible reasons why:

Trouble with reading: To solve word problems, kids have to read well. So even if they usually do well with math, reading difficulties can make word problems hard.

Trouble understanding math phrases and concepts: Even if kids are strong readers, they may have trouble picking up on clues in word problems. These clues are phrases that help kids figure out what they need to do to solve the problem, like adding or subtracting. Kids then have to translate these phrases into a number sentence, like “two plus three equals five.”

Trouble with focus and self-control: Kids may get distracted by the words or get lost in their heads. Other kids struggle with self-control and rush through the problem. They may skip important parts or make simple calculation mistakes.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.