How to Use Graphic Organizers to Solve Math Story Problems

Graphic organizers help students visually represent given information and ideas for solving math word problems.
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Solving word problems in math classes is often one of the most challenging aspects of mathematics for students. Many strategies focus on solving word problems using a step-by-step format. An alternate strategy employs some of the same methods in using steps to solve a problem but asks students to list or illustrate steps on a graphic organizer.

1 Benefits of Graphic Organizers in Math

Graphic organizers can be used in a variety of ways in the math classroom. They provide a way for students to keep track of key terms and develop examples or illustrations to aid in understanding. For example, a Venn diagram can be used to identify similarities and differences between rational and irrational numbers. Graphic organizers develop skills in identifying connections and relationships, which can assist students in solving word problems. Using an organizer to solve a word problem may include organizing given information or developing a plan for solving the problem.

2 Using a Sequence Chart

A sequence chart asks the student to demonstrate each step of a process in an individual box and can be adapted for use in solving a mathematics word problem . The teacher may adapt a popular step-by-step strategy, such as Polya's four-step method, for use in a sequence chart. This method of approaching word problems includes developing an understanding of the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan and looking back at the solution. In a sequence chart, space is provided for each of the four steps, requiring the student to either write a response to their solving strategy or illustrate the steps they are taking in problem-solving.

3 Creating Line Graphs and Bar Graphs

Word problems requiring projection of growth or loss over a period of time can be aided by a line graph. Students can use the graph to plot given information about increases to develop a strategy for solving for a missing amount. A bar graph can be used to to identify amounts in different categories. Neither graph may solve the problem itself but can help students notice patterns, develop equations and maintain a graphic representation to check a final answer.

4 Comparing with T-Charts and Venn Diagrams

The T-chart provides space for information divided in two columns. These graphic organizers can be used to solve multi-step word problems, and students may use the organizer to determine which information is relevant for each step of the problem. Similarly, the Venn diagram allows for two categories of information but provides additional space for similarities. This graphic organizer may be used for problems in which the students needs to decide what type of operation to use. The overlapping area lists initial reasons for choosing both operations and the individual sections allow students to list best reasons for solving a problem with a particular strategy.

Based in Los Angeles, Jana Sosnowski holds Master of Science in educational psychology and instructional technology, She has spent the past 11 years in education, primarily in the secondary classroom teaching English and journalism. Sosnowski has also worked as a curriculum writer for a math remediation program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from the University of Southern California.