September 30, 2013

Using Bar Models for Story Problems

I mentioned earlier this school year that our district had revamped our Everyday Math curriculum to better fit with Common Core.  One change was a bigger focus on story problems involving critical thinking during our addition and subtraction unit.  Story problems are always tough for kids, but I've in the past helped them through by making those anchor charts of "clue words" that we've all seen and made a million times.  However, my district said we were NOT supposed to be stressing clue words with the Common Core--too often kids were clinging to them and not even thinking, "What is the problem asking?" 

Our revised curriculum has us using "Bar Models" aka "Strip Diagrams" or "Thinking Blocks" as a tool for solving these story problems.  I LOVE them!  I think they have been such a big help for the kids, and they have even been a great tool for me in teaching story problems!  They make things so clear, and make it easier to see if the answers the kids get make sense.  Here's an example:
We introduced them with this website, and from there have been using them in class to solve word problems this week.  The kids are getting good at drawing the blank (undivided) bar immediately and the line above representing the total.  They then analyze the information in the problem and decide what each number represents--is this the total or is this a piece?  They can clearly see that the top number (total) must be the biggest number; if they accidentally put a smaller number there, it doesn't make sense.  The kids fill in the information they have, then add a variable for the unknown info.  From there, they are able to determine the operation and solve.  Here's a sample of some student work:

I made this anchor chart to put on my math board to remind the kids the process and the way to correctly label the answers:

Bar Models are definitely my new favorite strategy for word problems, and one of the best things I've gotten out of our new curriculum.  So far we have only been using them for addition and subtraction problems, but you can definitely also use them for multiplication and division!  Love versatility :)

How do you teach story problems?


  1. Oh my goodness, I looooove this! I have been working with my kids on their daily common core math homework on picturing what the story problem is asking by actually illustrating it...not necessarily a model, but just imagining the real-life situation it is asking about. So, this will be a really great segway into that! Thank you so so much for sharing this! I look forward to trying it out after we get back from fall break. We have 1st quarter testing this week and conferences, so it wouldn't be a worthwhile time to show this week. yeah!!

  2. We moved from EDM to Envisions last year and I really liked how Envisions included bar models for each operation. It's such an easy way to create a visual model!



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