Are your students “Number Shoppers” instead of “Problem Solvers”? Try numberless word problems!

“Number Shoppers”….we’ve all encountered them: students who just plow through a story problem, pulling numbers out as if they were just grabbing their favorite snacks off the shelf and tossing them into a shopping cart; no regard for the value of the numbers and what the represent, or the action taking place in the problem. Sometimes, it seems like there isn’t even any thinking going on!

On his blog “Teaching to the Beat of Different Drummer“, Brian Bushart suggests numberless word problems as an instructional strategy to help remedy this common challenge that plagues math classrooms. He states, “In essence, numberless word problems are designed to provide scaffolding that allows students the opportunity to develop a better understanding of the underlying structure of word problems.” Numberless word problems, combined with teacher facilitated questioning, are word problems that get kids thinking before they ever have numbers or a question to act on.

Inspiration for the problem can be drawn from an already existing problem in a textbook or other resource. Then, the numbers are removed and the problem is stripped down; the problem is scaffolded by sharing additional information with students, piece by piece. The power of a numberless word problem lies in the conversation students have as each new piece of information is shared. That conversation is driven by the planned questions asked by the teacher as more and more information is revealed.

Here is one example that Bushart shares:
original problem
Scaffolded Problems:
scaffolded problem
Planned Questions:

Read more at Bushart’s blog page “numberless word problems“, which includes posts on how to get started on using the problems in your classroom, tips for writing numberless problems, and a bank of numberless word problems ready to be tried out with your kiddos!

You can follow Bushart on his blog and @bstockus on Twitter. He also co-moderates the Twitter chat #ElemMathChat on Thursdays at 8pm CST.