Numberless Word Problems

Submitting Organization: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Grade Levels: 3rd Grade – 5th Grade

Subject Area: Math

Standards Alignment: Common Core State Standards – Mathematics

  • Mathematical Practice 1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  • Mathematical Practice 5, attend to precision.

Description of the Activity: Pick a word problem and remove the numbers and the question. For example, “135 girls entered a school art competition. Fifteen fewer boys than girls entered the competition. How many students entered?” becomes “Some girls entered a school art competition. Fewer boys than girls entered.” Display the word problem and ask students, “What math do you see in this problem?” As students identify some math (e.g. fewer boys than girls) ask them to generate some numbers that could be in the problem. Reveal each number one at a time, and repeat the process. Last, reveal the original question.

Discussion Questions:

  • “What math do you see in this problem?”
  • “How do you know?”
  • “What are some numbers that would work in this situation?”
  • “What are some numbers that would NOT work in this situation?”
  • “If we know ____, what else can we figure out now?”
  • “What new information do you see? How does it change your understanding of the situation?”
  • “So what question could I ask you about this situation?”

Resources Needed:


Link to further resources:

This blog post describes the routine:

This helps teachers choose and create their own numberless word problems: