Math in the Whole Language Classroom

Giant Story Problems
Renee Goularte

Every time I ask students what's hardest about math, they are likely to say that story problems give them the most trouble. By the time I am finished with them, though, my students generally love story problems and sometimes choose them during choice time. I came upon the idea of doing giant story problems when I was working with a mixed-age group of ELL students and was looking for something to do that would help them to understand and use mathematical language, as well as be able to work with a variety of ages in one group.

I started with an introductory whole group activity to introduce and model the process. For the introduction, I chose a simple story problem, so that we could concentrate mostly on the specific language and process of the activity, which was to be mirrored in what students would do later in small groups and eventually on their own.

This group problem was done on large chart paper, with a story problem that I had previously typed on the computer using a very large font.

Volunteer students did each of the following steps:

1. Glue the story problem onto the chart paper.
2. Read the problem aloud.
3. Highlight (with a marker) any key words in the problem.
4. Draw "the story" using simple drawings.
5. Write an equation that solved the problem.
6. Write a sentence that answered the question.
7. Double check to see that everything matched.


During this whole group activity, I checked each step for consensus that the problem-solving process was accurate, and had students explain how they knew. We checked the drawing with the language, and the equation with the drawing. The written sentence that answered the question in the problem needed to be a complete sentence with capital letter and full stop, and any numbers had to be written as words, to reinforce the spelling of number words.

After doing this one problem with the entire class, I had students work in small groups. I had several story problems previously prepared. Again, these had been typed on the computer with a very large font (24 or 30, I think).

I gave each group one "giant story problem' to work on as a group. They followed the same procedure that was used during the whole group activity. Because this was a mixed-age group, I decided to assign roles, so that the youngest students were doing the drawing and the older students were doing the writing.


When all students were finished, they shared their problem-solving strategies with the class, and we posted all the "giant story problems" on the wall for everyone... including visitors.... to enjoy.

Click HERE to see samples of student work on Giant Story Problems.


Renee Goularte is an elementary teacher and writer who has worked with students from Kindergarten through Sixth Grade. She has been teaching since 1988, and has a Master's Degree in Elementary Education. Her favorite book on teaching reading is Radical Reflections by Mem Fox.

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