How to Solve Word Problems with Pictures

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

“Today, we are going to solve math word problems.” When students hear this from their math teacher, their faces drop, sweat starts to form on their foreheads and they refuse to make eye contact. As a math teacher, I understand. I understand the anxiety and want to make the learning process with word problems more enjoyable. This is where reading, writing and, math collide and the real world of math begins. Let’s talk about how to solve word problems with pictures.

When students struggle with word problems in school, they also have difficulty tackling them for homework. Most students want the “one-size-fits-all” formula for word problems but unfortunately, that does not exist. However, drawing a picture will help students visualize the problem and will start advancing their learning stage from the concrete to the abstract. Let’s take a look at how to solve a word problem using pictures:

Steps for Solving Word Problems using Pictures

  1. Read the entire problem: Get all the facts – Underline key word
  2. Answer the question: What am I looking for?
  3. Draw a picture or diagram: Visualize as a real world situation
  4. Solve the problem: Set up the equation and solve
  5. Check your solution: Is this answer reasonable?

Word Problem Examples – Example A

Cody has 6 pencils on his desk, Jonah has 4 more than Cody and Vinny has three less pencils than Jonah. How many pencils are there in all?

  • Read the entire problem  
  • What am I looking for? How many pencils do Cody, Jonah and Vinny have altogether?  √
  • Draw a picture or diagram √Math Word Problems 1
  • Solve the problem   

      6 + 10 + 7 = 23 pencils

  • Check your solution  √

      This answer is reasonable

Example B

There are 3 fish tanks labeled   X, Y, and Z. Y weighs 6 times as much as X and twice as much as Z. If Z is 36 lbs. heavier than X, find the total weight of X, Y and Z.

  • Read the entire problem  
  • What am I looking for?  What is thetotal weight of fish tanks X, Y and Z?  √
  • Draw a picture or diagram √


Math Word Problems 2

  • Solve the problem   

18 + 108 + 54 = 180 pounds

  • Check your solution  √

      This answer is reasonable


Visualizing a word problem with pictures is a strategy that will help motivate many students to begin the process of solving them.  This works especially for students that may become bored by the excess amount of words instead of numbers or for those students who become overwhelmed by the information and want to break it down into a simpler form.   Another benefit of using pictures when solving word problems involves communicating the results.  The pictures act as justification for answers, make the problems easier to understand and therefore, secure the learning process.


Meet our Guest Blogger: Jan Rowe

Jan is one of Educational Connections’ top tutors. She has twelve years of classroom teaching experience and holds a Virginia and Florida teaching license in middle school mathematics and elementary education. Jan has been with Educational Connections for over a year, working with over twenty students. Her tutoring goal is to help each student understand their learning style so they can improve the speed and quality of that learning. When she is not tutoring or teaching, Jan loves to play scrabble, go hiking and play Frisbee with her new puppy.