My lower performing students always do so much better in math than they do in reading. Why? Because if they can barely read, how can they comprehend a word problem. In fact, in 12 years of teaching I have only had 1 child fail math. I believe one of the reasons for this is that I focus a lot on key words. They help give kids an advantage over word problems.
If a student can find the key words in a problem, then, most of the time, they don't even have to read the rest of the problem to figure out what to do to solve the problem. Key words have made my students successful problem solvers and have significantly increased test scores. Before focusing on key words, my students who were low in reading would score well on everything except for word problems, but now they are finally able to show off their strengths in math!
I start off teaching addition key words. I help students remember the words that tell you to add by using the acronym BAITS.
I spend a day or two solving addition problems and then move on to subtraction. These are the ones that really seem to elude kids. After several years of gathering subtraction key words, I finally got a list of the most frequently used words that tell students to subtract.
I teach to them as 3-2-1:
3 M's, 2 L's, CDF
Much _______er (shorter, longer, fatter, hotter, taller...)
It is amazing how much key words help students understand how to problem solve. I teach addition and subtraction key words during the first nine weeks. Later, after my units on rounding, estimation, the meaning of multiplication, and several other units I do a quick review of addition and subtraction key words and start teaching the word that tell students to multiply.
There are many different words that clue students in to multiplying to find the answers to problems. To help students remember, I teach them the acronym PEGS:
Armed with key words, students can solved almost any problem. 95% of key words have key words. For the ones that don't I teach them to draw problems out using unit bars. Unit bars are Singapore Math strategy that have revolutionized my students' problem solving.
I use a great PowerPoint presentation when teaching addition and subtraction problem solving. Check it out at my TpT store.
I also have a graphic organizer that I use with my students. You can download it here for free.