menu   home About Me My Shop My Classroom  
menu   TpT Instagram Facebook Twitter Pinterest Bloglovin  

Word Problem File Folders

I was in a pinch!  I know we've all been there!  (And if you haven't, please start a blog and share your secret!) The copier wasn't working, you ran out of laminator pouches for the game you made, your ELA lesson went over 20 minutes and now your brilliant math lesson won't work... the possible reasons are infinite!

I found myself in such a predicament a few months ago!  It was time for some quick thinking.  I quickly scanned the room for some inspiration.  I don't know why, but my attention focused on the large box of manila file folders sitting on my desk.  A small lightbulb started to figuratively flicker above my head.  After a few moments of processing under pressure, the idea was complete.  I knew it wasn't going to become some bulletin board worthy of Pinterest, but it had potential!

Grabbing the file folders and our recycled drawing paper (essentially a pile of unused work pages,) I made my way to the carpet where my students were patiently waiting.

I held up one of the folders and explained that today we were going to make TOP SECRET WORD PROBLEMS.  Each student would get the chance to create their own math word problem.  Since we are currently learning about fractions, I told them that the only requirements were:

1.  The word problem had to include fractions (our current math unit)
2.  They had to be able to solve their own problem and show their work.

I made sure to write these on the board for students to later reference.  Then, we moved onto the inside! I explained that on the inside they would share the answer to their work.  The requirements were:

1.  You must use WORDS, PICTURES AND NUMBERS to show your work.
2.  You must label your pictures
3.  You must include an equation in your explanation.

Again, I wrote these requirements on the board. The critical step for success in my classroom is always providing an explicit model!  It really helps review all of the steps and ensure that my students will follow them correctly.  Therefore, I created my own Word Problem File Folder in front of the class, voicing my questions and thought process aloud as I went through the steps.

1.    Think of a word problem (make sure you can solve it)
2.    Write it down on a white piece of paper
3.    Check  your word problem with a teacher
4.    Trace over it with a black Sharpie
5.    Tape it to the front of your folder
6.    On a separate sheet of paper, solve your word problem using pictures, numbers and words
7.    Label your pictures
8.    Make sure the equation that solves your problem is clearly written
9.    Tape it to the inside of your folder
10.  Hang up your folder

It wasn't glorious or anything, but it did what it was meant to do:  Make sure my kiddos know the steps and can do them independently!

It was time to let them get to work! I currently teach third grade, so my kiddos are rather independent. This meant that doing this activity as a whole class was a feasible option, and perhaps the most efficient. This is not to say that some of my students didn't need support, or had to give it more than one try, but for the most part, introducing this activity whole class worked for me!

However, I know that many of my readers teach in the lower grades, so I have thought a lot about how this activity would have looked in my first grade classroom (where I spent the past six years!)  I know that trying to support a class of 20-25 first graders with this activity would have made me want to pull my hair out!

For my Firsties, I would definitely have worked on this in small groups during math centers.  That way, I would be able to provide more 1:1 support for many of my little ones, who not only need help generating ideas and staying on task, but also require support with written output to make the problems accessible to others.

After putting all of the folders together, I displayed them on a piece of twine that hung within reach of my students little fingers.  I used large clothespins to hang them from the twine, and then used small clothes pins to keep the folders closed (helping them to resist temptation!)

One of our weekly math centers is now selecting "Word Problem Folders" and we LOVE it!  Students are responsible for self-selecting word problems from the display and bringing them back to their desk to solve.  Since the word problems are at different levels of difficulty (based on the author's comfort level with the content), the word problems themselves are naturally differentiated.  Therefore, students can select from a wide range of problems, challenging themselves at their own pace.

At their desks, students copy the word problems down into their math journals.  I have found that this has not only helped me keep track of what word problems they are actually solving, but it forces them to really pay attention to each word in the problem.  I like having them work in their journals because it keeps all of their thoughts in one place, and allows them to easily share their thinking with peers

We switch up the word problems every two weeks or so, and after settling into the routine, it typically takes them about 10-15 minutes to replace their old work with new content-specific word problems.  (Don't worry, we reuse the same file folders each week!)  It makes for a great formative assessment too!

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you have enjoyed checking out our latest math center!  Good ideas CAN come from those "on the fly" moments!


  1. Brilliant! Creative! Resourceful!

    Kudos to you!


  2. Thank you Rachel!!! Love that you stop by and visit my little corner of the Internet!