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Mastering Decimal Operations in Word Problems: A Step-by-Step Guide for Upper Elementary Students

Help students master decimal operations in word problems by teaching them these strategies!

Breaking down word problems in elementary school is a challenging task, especially when your students are so easily distracted by unnecessary information or details.

Something as simple as the character’s name in the question can throw the whole class off if that name happens to be the name of the teacher or another student.

Despite their difficulty, word problems will always be a necessary part of teaching math because they are what makes math applicable to the real world. They are the real-life examples of math that your students get to experience when they are young.

So, word problems by themselves are difficult, but then you add in another tough concept (decimals), and things become pretty darn tricky for upper elementary students.

Today, we want to make it all a little easier by simplifying the process of breaking down decimal operations in word problems to a simple checklist. 

Feel free to use this checklist with students as they are learning and reviewing decimal operations in your upper elementary classroom.

If you are looking for some word problems featuring decimal operations, then you’ll love these task cards. In addition to several decimal-focused word problems, they also include some decimal problems presented in mathematical expressions.

Mastering Decimal Operations in Word Problems

A Step-by-Step Guide for Mastering Decimal Operations in Word Problems

#1| Read the Problem Carefully

This one is no surprise, as it is the same for any word problem. To start working with a word problem, students need to begin by reading the entire word problem to understand the context and what is being asked. 

As they read, they’ll need to Identify the key information, such as quantities, units, and relationships between the numbers.

#2 | Identify the Operation

Next, students will want to determine which decimal operation (addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division) is required to solve the problem. 

Teach students to look for keywords that indicate the operation needed (e.g., “sum,” “difference,” “product,” or “quotient”). Consider putting some of these words on a bookmark students can have with them as they work with word problems or even on a poster or bulletin board.

#3| Translate the Problem into a Mathematical Expression

The next step is about putting the numbers into a language we understand; that language is a mathematical expression.

Students will take the numbers they found and combine them with the operation they identified to write down the mathematical expression that represents the information in the word problem. 

This is a good time to teach students to use variables for unknowns (or just blank spaces if the variables are a distraction) and clearly define their chosen operation.

#4| Re-Read and Check the Decimal Points

Since we are working with decimal points, students will want to take a moment after writing their mathematical expression to re-read the word problem and double-check their numbers and decimals to make sure they are working with the correct numbers.

#5| Perform the Calculation

Use the appropriate decimal operation to solve the equation. 

Since we’re working with decimal points, students will want to review how the calculation may be different than using whole numbers before working through the calculations.

While performing the calculation, encourage students to pay attention to how decimal points are placed in the solution.

#6| Check Units and Labels

At this point in our checklist for mastering decimal operations in word problems, it’s time to double-check that your answer has the correct units and labels. 

If the problem involves money, make sure your answer is in the correct currency and format. If it is a measurement, make sure the correct type of measurement is accounted for.

#7| Use Common Sense

Check if your answer makes sense in the context of the problem. Does the result seem to align with the range you would expect based on the first reading of the problem?

If the problem involves a real-world scenario, consider if the answer is reasonable.

Mastering Decimal Operations in Word Problems

#8| Write a Clear and Concise Solution

With word problems, presentation matters. Encourage students to present their solutions in a clear and organized manner. 

Since this is for educational purposes, students should show their work. So, the presentation of their solutions will need to include all the steps they took to solve the problem. 

#9| Check for Errors

Review your solution for any errors or mistakes. Verify that your calculations are accurate and that you have addressed all aspects of the problem.

#10| Practice with Additional Problems

To reinforce the understanding of decimal operations in word problems, practice solving additional problems. This will help students become more comfortable and proficient in applying these skills.

We have several decimal operations games and resources in the store. 

Click on the links and images below to learn more about them! Every one of these resources includes a variety of word problem options you can use to practice this checklist with students.

Decimal Task Card Review

Decimal (All Operations) Digital Puzzles

Decimal (All Operations) Game Show

Decimal (All Operations) U-KNOW Card Game

Decimal Task Cards
Decimal (All Operations)Digital Puzzles
Decimals All Operations Game Show
Decimal (All Operations) Game Show
U-Know Decimal All Operations Game
Decimal (All Operations) U-KNOW Card Game

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