When students reach 3rd and 4th grade level math, they will begin to learn multiplication and division, two of the most essential mathematical operations. Students will also learn how to use these operations for learning other math concepts like fractions, decimals, or percentages. In a previous blog post, I have walked through a four-step process to tackle word problems at the 5th and 6th grade level. However, I would like to take this time to apply this process to 3rd and 4th grade math problems.

For example, let’s take a look at this imaginary word problem:

“I want to make sandwiches for 5 of my friends. If I want to give each friend 3 sandwiches, what is the total number of sandwiches I should make?”

Let’s go through the following steps:

• Find the objective and background information.

First, we should find the word problem’s objective, or goal. In this problem, we want to know how many sandwiches I should make for all of my friends. In order to figure out the total number of sandwiches I should make, I would need to know some background information. The problem provides the number of friends (5) I want to make sandwiches for and the number of sandwiches (3) I want to give to each friend. If there is any information within the problem that could be useful, please box, highlight, or draw a squiggly line underneath the text! As an example, I have bolded the key background information for this word problem below:

“I want to make sandwiches for 5 of my friends. If I want to give each friend 3 sandwiches, what is the total number of sandwiches I should make?”

• Which mathematical operations will you use to solve this problem? Are you going to multiply, divide, add, or subtract?

In the previous blog post, I stated that the second step would be to consider formulas. However, since this blog post is about 3rd and 4th grade math word problems, we will instead choose among the four arithmetic operations listed above. Our objective is to find a total, so we will not be using subtraction or division for this problem. Since we are given information about how the sandwiches will be split among friends, the best operation to use in this case would be multiplication. (Addition could also work but adding 3 sandwiches for each friend would be less efficient.)

• Make note of any unknowns you need to solve for.

In this problem, we do not know the total number of sandwiches I need to make for all of my friends, so this is what we will solve for.

• Solve!

To solve for the total number of sandwiches, we would multiply the number of friends (5) by the number of sandwiches each friend would have (3). 5 friends multiplied by 3 sandwiches gives us a total of 15 sandwiches. Now, I know that I will have enough sandwiches to share among my 5 friends if I make a total of 15 sandwiches.

Now, let us apply this same procedure to this next word problem:

“A large pepperoni pizza is cut into 8 slices. Student A eats 2 slices and Student B eats 1 slice. What fraction of the pepperoni pizza remains in the pizza box?”

To find the answer, I will once again walk through the four-step process for solving this problem.

Where are the objective and background information?

We are trying to figure out how much of the pizza remains, but we want our answer in fraction form. This would be considered our objective. In order to tackle this problem, we should use the background information given in the problem. We know that we have a total of 8 slices, how many slices Student A ate, and how many slices Student B ate. All of this information will be useful, so let us make a note of it by bolding the words in the problem like so:

“A large pepperoni pizza is cut into 8 slices. Student A eats 2 slices and Student B eats 1 slice. What fraction of the pepperoni pizza remains in the pizza box?”

Which mathematical operations will you use to solve this problem? Are you going to multiply, divide, add, or subtract?

For this problem, we will want to express the number of slices eaten and the number of remaining slices as fractions. The denominator for this problem is the total number of slices we started out with, and the numerators would depend on each fraction we work with. First, we would need to add up the number of slices each student ate. Then, we would subtract this total from the number of slices that we started out with to reach our objective.

What are we solving for?

In this problem, we do not know what fraction of the pepperoni pizza remains in the pizza box. This is the unknown that we will be solving for.

Solve!

First, let us express the total number of pepperoni pizza slices as a fraction (8/8). Then, we will express the number of slices each student ate as fractions. Student A ate 2 out of 8 slices (2/8), and Student B ate 1 out of 8 slices (1/8). If we add up the number of slices eaten, we will get a total fraction of 3/8.

2/8 + 1/8 = 3/8

Now, we want to subtract this fraction from the total number of pizza slices we started out with.

8/8 – 3/8 = 5/8

After following these steps, we can conclude that 5/8 of the pepperoni pizza remain in the box.

I hope this guide provides insight on how to tackle 3rd and 4th grade level math word problems, whether they are about multiplication or fractions! Learning new math skills can be challenging at first but taking the time to approach word problems carefully will help students successfully solve them. If you would like additional help, My Private Professor in Orange County offers 3rd and 4th grade tutoring in a variety of subjects, including math!

Amy Hua is a tutor at My Private Professor, which provides individualized online & in-person tutoring to students in all subjects, including K-12 math, science, language arts, history, foreign language, AP exams, test prep, essays, & college counseling, by top tutors from top universities.