When I was in school, we spent a lot of time on math drills and solving equations. We practiced until we memorized each process. Math wasn’t easy for me, but eventually I mastered the process of long division. I didn’t understand the process or why I was taking each step. I just went through the motions until I got the correct quotient.


Years later the Common Core Standards came along. Almost as controversial as politics, the CCSS caused an uproar amongst families and educators. Now I’m not here to speak for, or against them, but after teaching to them for many years, I saw students developing a deeper understanding of why they followed certain processes to solve math problems. 

However, one challenge I found in the CCSS for math was the word problems. Back when I was in school, we didn’t see many word problems, maybe one at the end of a worksheet or test. Today’s students are faced with pages of only word problems. 

Did the developers of these standards take into consideration our learners who struggle with language?


Maybe they did, or maybe they didn’t think about students with language challenges. As a special education teacher, it was my job and passion to think about it. So I started to teach my students to attack those word problems with pictures

This process involves thinking of each word problem as a story and visualizing what is going on as it is being read. Then, one sentence, or part of a sentence, at a time, we attack the problem by drawing pictures or representations. 

Here is an example

Jerald and Manuella each have a paper route on weekend mornings. 

If Jerald delivers 23 papers each morning and Manuella delivers 39 papers each morning, how many papers do they deliver in all?

You can see a completed representation of the problem below. This was drawn in steps, as I read each part of the problem. 

Notice full names and full words weren’t important, as long as I could understand what the letters meant.


My wish for our students with language difficulties is for Math to be just Math computations and for reading and writing to stay in Language Arts classes — at The Academy Virtual my wish comes true! 

If you and your child come across these word problems in your learning journey, give this strategy a try.

Heather Badger-Brown has been a Math and Writing Coach at The Academy since September 2020. She is an expert in virtual Multisensory Education. She also serves as the Creator of Kid Opportunities and Outreach.