This morning several students on campus participated in a panel, answering staff questions about learning styles and classroom environments. We learned a lot. At one point, students were asked about reading and writing in non-Language Arts classes. One of my students described an activity that we do, and he got all the major points. Made me feel good. Here’s the summary:

**Solving Without Numbers**

I take a word problem that students should be pretty comfortable with, put it in PowerPoint and delete the numbers from the problem. Students then write instructions for solving the problem. The reason I take out the numbers is to force students to think about the steps of their solution and be descriptive. In the example here, if students had numbers they would write something along the lines of:

Take away the 75 from the 625 and divide by 110.

Without the numbers, it becomes more like:

Take the

rental feefrom thetotal price. Divide the answer by the daily rate.

It could still use some work, but it’s a step in the right direction.

I want my students to learn from this exercise, I want them to experience success, and I want them to gain confidence communicating about mathematics. So here’s where we go after they have a few minutes to write their directions.

- Share with a neighbor. Read your instructions aloud to them, listen to them read their instructions aloud to you.
- Who would like to volunteer to read their instructions
*or tell us the instructions you heard from your neighbor*? - Now that the class has shared some examples, revise your instructions.
- Now I advance the slide to add the numbers to the word problem. Use your instructions to answer the problem and see how well they work.

In a perfect world, I’d like students to *trade* instructions and try following someone else’s instructions to solve the problem, but we usually don’t make it that far. This began as a strategy for students with limited English proficiency. Yet so many of our math students lack academic vocabulary that this a valuable exercise for most of my students.