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Word Problem Woes with Estimation

word problem problems

We’ve been so super busy since school started back! I have to say that I am in LOVE with my new group of students! We’ve gotten off to a great start! Things had been running pretty smoothly in our math block until we came to word problems estimating sums and differences. Sure, they could round numbers. They’re actually really good at rounding numbers. They have number sense

They can also add and subtract multi-digit whole numbers like nobody’s business. However, when I asked these sweet students to solve a variety of addition and subtraction word problems, things came to a screeching halt. Surprisingly, my little loves were having trouble figuring out if a given problem wanted them to find an estimate or an exact answer.

Word Problem Brick Wall

It was like after we started our lessons and practice of using estimated sums and differences to check the reasonableness of our exact answers, things got all mixed up. Suddenly, they just wanted to only estimate sums and differences or either they would only calculate exact sums and difference. No middle ground.

We needed more practice! Before breaking up into math flex groups, we had a short-mini lesson on estimating sums and differences and some key words that clue us in to whether a given problem wants an estimate. 

**I do not generally teach key words for operations. I find that students overly rely on their presence and mindlessly perform calculations without truly analyzing the given word problem’s meaning.** With that being said, there are some pretty obvious key words for estimation!

word problem estimation math journal entry

Estimation vs. Exact Math Journal Entry​

This is actually my math journal from last year. Of course when I got home today I realized that my teacher math journal for this year is currently sitting on the corner of my desk in my classroom. :/

word problem estimating sums and differences

Estimating Sums and Differences Anchor Chart​

This anchor chart isn’t mine, but I really like it. This was is from Amy Groesbeck. I found it on Pinterest. #theamygroesbeckanchorchart

Word Problem Resources

Now these kiddos still need more practice to really get the hang of this skill. I decided to expand my Resolve to Solve word problem resources to include a set of problems that ask students to determine if a given word problem wants an estimate or an exact answer. 

We’re going to work in small groups this week to really sharpen our problem solving skills. These sets are differentiated into 5 different levels denoted by shape.

Differentiated Word Problem Levels

Level 1 – Circle (Low-Average Learner)- Determine if the problem asks for an estimate or exact answer. Numbers included. Do not solve.

Level 2 – Triangle (Average Learner) – Determine if the problem asks for an estimate or exact answer. Write the equation needed to solve. Do not solve.

Level 3 – Square (High Learner) – Determine if the problem asks for an estimate or exact answer. Write the equation and solve.

Levels 4 & 5 – Remediate/Accelerate – Star – Determine if the problem asks for an estimate or exact answer. No numbers included. Two versions included. The directions are different for these sets.

  • (Low/Struggling Learner) Use to remediate comprehension without the distraction of numbers.
  • (Advanced/Gifted Learner) Use to extend/acceleration problem solving skills by having students to insert their own numbers to solve.

I want to make the most of our small group time, so the directions for the circle, triangle, and low star ask that students do not solve the problem. That’s right, no computation at all. I want us to focus on the meaning of the problem itself. For the square and advanced star, students are asked to go ahead with computation.

You can get the full set now in my Teachers Pay Teachers store!


I also have sets for students to determine the operation of a given word problem. The sets are differentiated the exact same way and ask that students determine the operation needed. 

I have plans to make more differentiated word problem sets soon. My plans include:

  • Mixed Operations (Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, & Division)
  • Addition & Subtraction within 100
  • Addition & Subtraction within 1,000
  • Basic Multiplication & Division
  • Basic Addition & Subtraction 

If there’s something else you’d like to see a Resolve to Solve differentiated word problem set for, please comment below or message me through one of my social media channels!

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