Ideas for using problem solving activities

  • Consider changing the context, the names of characters, or the numbers in the problem to make it more suitable for your class.
    Click to download a collection of templates to support you to create your own versions of problems.
  • Captivate your students (hook them into the problem) with a creative introduction.
  • Having shared the problem, have your students retell in their own words what the problem is asking them to find out.
    To experience success a student must first fully understand the problem.
  • Make suitable materials available. Many students solve a problem and demonstrate their solution using materials.
  • Be clear yourself about exactly what you want your students to learn from their problem solving experience. 
    Make this explicit to your students. (Finding a solution is only part of the learning).
  • Have key supporting questions ready to ask your students as they work on the problem:
    Getting startedWhile working on the problemAt the finish
    • Has anyone seen a problem like this before?
    • What are the important ideas in this problem?
    • Can you rephrase the problem in your own words?
    • What is this problem asking you to find out?
    • What information has been given?
    • What conditions apply?
    • Can you guess what the answer might be?
    • What strategies might you use to get started?
    • Which of these ideas are worth pursuing?
    • Tell me what you are doing?
    • Why (how) did you think of that?
    • Why are you doing this?
    • What will you do with the result of that work when you’ve got it?
    • Why is this idea better than that one?
    • You’ve been trying that idea for 5 minutes. Is it time to try something else?
    • Can you justify that step?
    • Have you answered the question?
    • Have you considered all possible cases?
    • Have you checked your solution?
    • Does the answer look reasonable?
    • Is there another answer?
    • Is there another solution?
    • Can you explain your solution to the class?
    • Is there another way to solve the problem?
    • Can you generalise or extend the problem?
  • Conclude a problem solving session with your students by identifying important learning and together generalize this to other situations.
  • The problems are set within full lessons which outline a suggested teaching sequence. These are guidelines only.