Do your students dread the multi-step word problems? Do they even know that it is a 2 step word problem? Join the club. I refer to these kinds of problems as CURVE BALLS. You’re expecting a fast ball, then BAM, it’s a 2 step problem and before you even know it you’ve struck out!

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Word problems are difficult whether they are one step or multi-step. And the fact that they have to do them all year long is very disengaging for students. So the other day I decided to mix it up a little and add some creativity to tackling those multi-step word problems.

One way I teach problem solving is to have students act out or imagine being in the word problem. For example, if the word problem states that John is baking 10 cookies, then I ask them to imagine themselves as John baking the cookies. Then John bakes 10 brownies. Smell those delicious brownies baking in the oven! John puts them together on a plate. So we act out putting the cookies and brownies on a plate. Then he and 4 friends share the cookies equally between them. So we have 5 students come up and pretend to be John and his 4 friends. How do we share these yummy cookies and brownies? Then the students can actually SEE that first we must add the cookies and brownies (10 + 10 = 20) then divide by the number of people (20 ÷ 5 = 4).

So I had the students do a simple quick art project in which they cut out some red or green candies, put them on a red stocking, then write a word problem about sharing the candy with friends. They worked in pairs.

Each pair received or needs:

- Clip Art red and green candies (you can find these easily for free on TpT!)
- 1 piece of white construction paper (I used 12 x 18)
- 1 stocking cut out from red construction paper (I did this ahead of time)
- glue stick
- scissors
- pencil

Then these were the steps:

1. Decide with your partner, how many of each candy will be used. Since this was the first time doing this, I asked them to pick even numbers because they are easier to divide.

2. Then they cut out their number of candy and arranged them on the stocking randomly so that the colors were mixed up.

3. Once that is done, everything is glued down including the stocking on the left side of the white construction paper.

4. Now were are ready to write! Each pair had to come up with the number of friends they would share these candies with. Then write a word problem describing how many red and how many green candies would be shared. I had them practice first on a scratch paper before copying it on the white construction paper.

5. Once the word problem was complete, they decorated the remaining space while others were completing theirs. The final step is to have partners trade with another pair and solve each other’s multi-step word problems. You can keep that going until the students have practiced 3 – 5 times. By then, they will have a better understanding of how to recognize a multi-step word problem.