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Mackie's Word Problem Solving Plan

I. Get an Understanding
………Read the problem carefully at least twice to get an understanding of the question. However, it’s more fun to think of the question as a mystery.

II. Gather information

Let’s sit down and think about it! It’s time to play detective or become a member of CSI (TV show). In other words, the point here is to relate to something the students can identify with at the current time. Thus, we ask ourselves what information or hints do we see in the word problem that will help answer the question or resolve the mystery. For instance, the phrase “a dozen friends” means twelve friends. Another question to ask is “How will I use this information? “ Also, we are aware that all mysteries have misleading or extra information. However, sharp Math Investigators are not tricked by trivial information. Are we?

III. Write a Plan with Strategies

Once you have an understanding of the question to be resolved and have identified the information to solve it, let’s write a plan.

Write down the question.
Write down the gathered information.
Write down how to solve the problem. (first, second, third, etc) This can include computations, tables, pictures, etc.

IV. Work the Plan you wrote down.

Be ye doers of your plan. Do what each step instructs you to do.
If a problem requires multiple steps, a person must keep these steps in their brain which is called “working memory.” This task can be a challenge for some students. For example, the student correctly decides the solution requires him to add three numbers and then subtract the sum from an allowance. The student proceeds to add the three numbers and gets frustrated in the addition process. Thus, when he finally finishes adding the numbers, he is so happy to have finished adding that he quits and moves on to the next problem. What happened? The steps he originally decided to do were lost in the process. I have witnessed this happen frequently. So, I redirect them to their written plan and ask, “What does your plan tell you to do after adding the three numbers?” Now, the student is back on track.

Sidebar: Think about it. Doesn’t this sometimes happen in real life? We are told to write a plan or business plan. We start off good by following the plan. Then, we get distracted. We either never finish the task or we go back and review the plan to become refocused and get back on track. Educators, how many unfinished projects do you have?


V. Ask - Is the answer reasonable? If not, ask, “Where do I need to make adjustments?”


In summary:

I. Get an Understanding of the Question

II. Gather information

III. Write a Plan with Strategies

IV. Work the Plan you wrote down

V. Ask - Is the answer reasonable?

Memory tool for steps – GGWWA = “Girls Go Wacky With Attitudes” or “Gorillas Giggle With Wacky Apes”



The word problem solving plan is based upon the principles in the following scriptures. The scriptures references are color coded to the problem solving steps. KJV

Proverbs 4:7, Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting ,get understanding.

Luke 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?

Habakkuk. 2:2 And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.

James 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.


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