EL Support Lesson

Writing Questions for Word Problems

Empower students to think like mathematicians by having them create word problems related to subtracting mixed numbers. Use this lesson on its own or as support to the lesson Subtracting Mixed Numbers Using the Decomposition Strategy.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for theSubtracting Mixed Numbers Using the Decomposition StrategyLesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for theSubtracting Mixed Numbers Using the Decomposition StrategyLesson plan.

Students will be able to solve subtraction problems with mixed numbers that have like denominators using the decomposition strategy.


Students will be able to write questions to go with word problems using a graphic organizer and peer support.

(2 minutes)
Creating Problem Questions with Mixed NumbersVocabulary Cards: Writing Questions for Word ProblemsGlossary: Writing Questions for Word ProblemsTeach Background Knowledge TemplateWrite Student-Facing Language Objectives Reference
  • Read aloud the student-facing content and language objectives for this lesson.
  • Briefly define any unknown terms in the objectives and emphasize that today the students will play the role of the teacher as they create questions to go along with information in word problems.
(10 minutes)
  • Tell students that they will first review some key maths vocabulary words to help them succeed in this lesson. Distribute a Glossary to each student.
  • Invite students to read aloud the definition and describe the image for the vocabulary terms.
  • Write "Sentence" in the empty column on the right and show students how you write a sample sentence using the term Difference(e.g., "The difference between 13 and 8 is 5.").
  • Instruct students to complete the Glossary by writing their own sentences using each maths word. Have students share their sentences with a partner before inviting a few students to share with the whole group.
  • Tell students to paste the glossary in their maths journals for future reference.
  • Demonstrate a real-world example of a mixed number subtraction problem. Pour 3 3/4 cups of juice or any other liquid into a large measuring cup (e.g., a one-quart measuring container). Tell students that you will drink 1 2/4 cups of juice. Write out the following two sentences on a piece of chart paper: "I have 3 3/4 cups of juice. I will drink 1 2/4 cups of juice at lunch."
  • Ask students to consider what they think will come next in the word problem. Allow students to talk to a partner in response to the information provided. Record students' ideas on the chart paper. Guide them to realise that most maths word problems ask a question at the end. The question usually tell us what we need to solve for.
  • Have students contribute possible questions to the juice problem and clarify or correct any misunderstandings. Explain to students that many questions could work for the same information given and that there isn't necessarily only one question that fits the word problem. Remind students that it is important to try to state the question as clearly as possible so that the reader or person who tries to solve the problem does not get confused by the wording.
(8 minutes)
  • Place students into partnerships. Distribute the Creating Problem Questions with Mixed Numbers worksheet and display a teacher copy. Read aloud the directions and explain that students will be working in partnerships to co-create a question to follow some information provided in a word problem.
  • Model how to create a possible question for the first problem. Tell students that they should not solve the problem yet but focus only on writing a short, and to-the-point question that will create a subtraction problem for their peers to solve.
  • Tell students to refer to the Glossary they completed earlier as they co-create problem questions for numbers 2 to 6.
  • Circulate the room and offer assistance as needed.
  • Combine two pairs of students to make a group of 4 and have the two pairs share their questions with one another and provide feedback using the following sentence frames:
    • "Your question is ____Because..."
    • "I like how your question uses the word ____Because..."
    • "I suggest you change your question to ____So that..."
  • Invite a few students to share the feedback from the small group sharing session with the whole class.
(10 minutes)
  • Tell students that since they had the chance to play the role of teacher as they wrote problem questions, they now have the task of solving the word problems they created.
  • Model on the teacher copy how to solve the first problem on the worksheet. Remind students to show their work in the Solution column of the graphic organizer. Encourage them to draw pictures to help them solve the problems.
  • Scramble the partnerships so that students have a new partner to work with. Tell students to switch their worksheet with their partner and make sure both of their names are on them.
  • Have them solve the word problems on their peer's worksheet while making sure to show all their work.
  • Instruct students to check each other's work once they are done solving the problems.
  • Encourage students to ask their partner questions regarding their solution to the problem, such as:
    • How did you solve the problem?
    • How do you know it is correct?
  • Provide sentence stems to help students respond to the questions:
    • "I solved the problem by..."
    • "I know this is correct because..."


  • Give students sentence stems to help them answer the questions about how they solved the problems.
  • Pair students with more advanced students or other ELs who speak the same home language (L1) for partner activities.
  • Create and display a word/phrase bank with helpful terms from the lesson for students to refer to, with images if applicable.
  • Provide students with a set of the vocabulary cards in English and student's home language (L1) if possible.


  • Have students describe their maths processes without relying on the sentence stems/frames.
  • Encourage students to rephrase the directions and key learning points from the lesson.
  • Tell students to create their own subtraction problems with mixed numbers to solve on their own.
(5 minutes)
  • Hand out a sticky note to each student.
  • Show the following information on the board: "Lola hosted a birthday party and ordered pizza. She had 2 3/8 pizzas left over afterward. She decided to take the leftover pizza to soccer practise. Her team ate 1 1/8 pizzas."
  • Tell students to write a problem question for the information provided and solve the problem on the sticky note.
(5 minutes)
  • Have students discuss what it felt like to create their own questions in a word problem with their partner first before discussing as a whole group. Display and read aloud the following questions to prompt students to reflect on the experience:
    • What is difficult or easy about writing problem questions on mixed numbers? Why?
    • Would you like to practise creating more maths problems in the future?
    • Why do you think it's good or helpful to learn how to write maths questions?

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