Posted on

5 Steps For Successful Problem Solving

Problem Solving Strategies

5 Steps To Problem Solving

Researchers have found that students lack the word problem solving strategies and that this causes students struggle when solving word problems. Solving word problems involves a higher order level of thinking and the application of mathematical understanding rather than the recall of facts. Students find it difficult to develop useful word problem solving strategies. They need to be explicitly taught a series of problem solving strategies as part of  a maths program.  Australian educator Dr Anne Newman’s research (1977) into successful problem solving found that students progress through 5 hurdles during problem solving, and when teaching numeracy, teachers need to incorporate these steps into their planning so that for students can become successful problem solvers!

Problem Solving Strategies

Newman’s Prompts

  • Hurdle 1: ReadingEven good readers often find it being able to read and decode mathematical texts, words, and graphics


  • Hurdle 2: ComprehensionStudents may not understand the meaning of the words and graphics in a mathematical context. They may confuse everyday meanings of words and substitute this for mathematical contexts. Students need to know what’s important and what’s irrelevant detail. This is so much more complicated than just highlighting the key words! If you are able to highlight what is important it doesn’t mean you know why it’s important or what you need to do with that information. What if you think everything is important? This will prevent them from building an understanding of what the question is asking them to do.


  • Hurdle 3: TransformationStudents find it difficult to work out how to transform the words of a problem into an appropriate mathematical strategy to solve the problem. They need to know a range of George Polya’s  strategies to do this, some include:
  • Draw a picture
  • Guess & Check
  • Act it out – use materials
  • Write a number sentence
  • Find a pattern
  • Make an orderly list
  • Eliminate the possibilities
  • Work backwards


  • Hurdle 4: Processing SkillsMost teachers are excellent at teaching math skills such as multiplication, addition, division and subtraction and students are quite able to follow the process of these skills. The problem is that more often than not  they do not know when to apply these skills? Most students do not know which operational process is required to solve a problem.


  • Hurdle 5: EncodingArriving at a solution and testing that the answer works

5 Problem Solving ‘Prompts’ for Success

Dr Anne Newman came up with a way to analyse the errors students made and a  set of  prompts   that you can use during these 5 stages. they will help you to identify where students are having difficulties and provide the appropriate level of scaffolding to help them progress through their difficulties and be successful!  I use the following prompts with the students during problem solving:

    1. “Read the question to yourself. If you don’t know a word leave it out or use another word.”
    2. “Tell me what the question is asking you to do.”
    3. “Tell me how you are going to find the answer?
    4. “Show me what you are going to do to get the answer. Talk aloud as you do it so I can understand your thinking.”
    5. “Write your answer, does it make sense? Have you answered what was being asked?”

Watch our Problem Solving Video for More on Newman’s Prompts

Join our Private Facebook Group for more videos, Ideas & FREE Resources >>>



We found a number of problem solving acronyms  to help students develop their problem solving skills. We have created a set of Think-boards and posters that incorporates Newman’s prompts and 3 acronyms: S.O.L.V.E it!, R.i.D.E, & F.i.S.H. Use these problem Solving Strategies & A Growth Mindset to help your students become ‘Good Mathematicians’.  

Watch the video to see how the S.O.L.V.E it! strategy works…


CLICK Here To SEE our Problem Solving Pack- Includes  Problem Solving Strategies, Classroom Posters, Flip Book & think-boards

Problem Solving Strategies Kit

 FREE Problem Solving Thinkboard!

Free Problem Solving Think board

Download FREEBIE




Checkout our Favourite Growth Mindset Resources…

GRIT to Go: Classroom-Ready Resources to Motivate Growth MindsetsMathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative TeachingYour Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It
Mindset Mathematics: Visualizing and Investigating Big Ideas, Grade 4Mindset: The New Psychology of SuccessThe Girl Who Never Made MistakesReady-to-Use Resources for Mindsets in the Classroom: Everything Educators Need for Building Growth Mindset Learning Communities