Friday, October 9, 2009

Word Problems With Bite

I wrote Tyrannosaurus Math (reviewed this week at Miss Rhumpius) before discovering Susan Gerofsky’s A Man Left Albuquerque Heading East, (mentioned in an earlier post). But it confirmed what I already knew: kids crave word problems with appealing imagery.

As part of her research Gerofsky asked a group of 5th and 6th graders to discuss three similar story problems in which Mike, Susanne or Sandra put some tomatoes, plums and apples into a number of bags or cartons.

“It would be better if it was about rocket blasters,” one child said.
“You’d have a better question, like if it’s candy,” said another. Sometimes you think of that when you solve a problem. Then when you go home you want to have candy. So your mouth just makes you do the question.”

Publishers of math books for the young get it. A search for “counting books” on Amazon turns up books with chocolate, icky bugs, crocodiles, fairy tale characters and more. Why shouldn’t older children get equal treatment? Why not serve them word problems with high interest topics?

In honor of Poetry Friday:

Max came upon five wild beasts,
They had fur, and scales and feathers,
Two terrible eyes shone from each,
How many eyes all together?

In my next post, a lesson on getting children to write their own jazzy word problems. Let the rumpus begin!


  1. I'm positively tickled to find your blog! Tyrannosaurus Math is in the To Be Reviewed Pile at A Year of Reading -- LOVE IT! Can't wait to share it with my students (4th graders) and then with all of our math teachers! Fun, fun, fun!

  2. Bless you!!! Thank you. I am trying to do a website for teachers for my book "Earthquake!" This nF book is aimed at grades 2-4
    I have been working on a tactile measuring math experiment for "How big is it?" That came to a screeching halt yeaterday when I realized the Richter Scale is not based on a power of ten. (okay lots of people think it is)
    Now I can work on word problems instead. What a great idea.
    If you know anywhere that there is an excel graph of the Richter scale, please contact me at I would still love to set up a tactile experiment.
    Thank you for the word problem idea.
    I am subscribing to your blog right now