2 Writing Story Problems


For the past couple of days, we have been learning the parts of number stories (story problems).  The students are familiar with hearing number stories and then solving them, but when they must do the reverse and create the number story; it becomes apparent that they don’t always understand what’s happening.

Here’s a way they have been shown to write a simple number story.  I tell them they will be writing three sentences:  period, period, question mark – meaning, the first two are telling sentences, the last is a question.


The Three Parts


First think of what your story is going to be about.  Ask yourself, “What are you going to count in your story?”  In their workbooks, this is called the unit or label.  (Ideas can be dogs, cats, pumpkins, horses, bikes, books, cookies, buckets, cars, baseball cards, etc.)

Next, they must think of a number for their idea.  Currently I say do not go over 20.

Then they write a first sentence.  For example:  There were 13 roses in a garden shop.


Now decide if you want your number to get bigger (+) or smaller (-).  So, pick another number and make up an interesting thing that happens to your first sentence.  For example:  Six of the rose bushes were sold to a customer.


Now write a question to let the readers know what they must figure out in the story.  For example, How many rose bushes are in the shop now?


It’s fun to do this activity with the students because when they tell me their stories, I can easily see that there are still gabs in their understanding.

Here are two kinds that I often hear from students:

There are 10 fish in a tank.  Then 4 were taken out.  Now there are six left.   (This student understands the basic parts of the story but doesn’t see that the purpose is to pose a problem for someone else to solve.)

Another student said he wanted his story to be about apples and started like this:  There were two people with apples.  Then five people came with apples.  How man apples is that?  (This was a real eye-opener!  This student needs to understand the idea/unit/label for his story is what’s going to become the problem.)

I think what I have learned from listening to their stories is that it helps to tell the students that they are making up a puzzle for someone else to figure out.


Provide an equation and say, “If I give you this equation:

6 + 5 = 11, I would like you to make up/write a number story for it.”  Sometimes make the numbers high because that can look tricky even though they’ve been making up stories with single digits.  Give them something like this:  459 – 230 = 229.  (We’re not worried about them solving the equation during this activity.  We just want to work on a basic understanding of the language for addition and subtraction stories.)