This activity helps to guide students through the process of solving a mathematical word problem.  Students fill out a chart with the following columns as they complete a word problem:
K: What do you know?
N: What is not relevant?
W: What do you want to find out?
S: What strategy can you use?

Learning Strategies 

  • Determining Importance
  • Inferring
  • Metacognition
  • Predicting
  • Questioning
Assessing Prior Knowledge, Metacognition, Self-Questioning, Generating Questions

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Launching Into New Content

Content Areas 

  • Math

Learning Strands 

  • Numeracy

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Metacognition


  • Identify one or more word problems you want students to solve.
  • Prepare a large KNWS chart, plus individual ones for students.
  • Prepare to model using a KNWS chart to solve at least one problem.
Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher introduces KNWS chart, and explains how to use it. Teacher models using a KNWS chart with a sample word problem.

    As you model, think aloud about the process so that students can understand how and why you make the decisions you do. 

  2. Teacher distributes blank KNWS charts and one or more word problems. Students prepare to work alone or in small groups.
    You can easily differentiate instruction for this activity by providing different students with word problems of varying levels of difficulty.
    Keep your completed model KNWS chart visible as students work.


  3. Students read the word problem, and identify the pieces of information they know. They put this information in the “K” column.

    Circulate as students are working, engaging one or two students at a time in mini-conferences in which you gauge their thinking process and their understanding, and help to guide them towards a higher level.

  4. Students identify which pieces of information are irrelevant, and write these in the “N” column.

    Make sure students know that many word problems intentionally include at least one totally irrelevant detail.  You can make finding these irrelevant details seem like a puzzle, which can make the process more fun.

  5. Students identify what they need to find or answer, and write this in the “W” column.

    Students may also want to underline or highlight the main question in the text of the word problem. 

  6. Students identify what strategies will be most helpful in solving the problem, and write them in the “S” column.

    Consider providing students with a list of possible strategies, processes, and operations that they may use while solving problems.

  7. Using their charts as guides, students solve the word problem. They repeat the process for any remaining word problems.

    Make sure to be available to more struggling students at this point, to scaffold their efforts to apply their charts to actually solve the problems.

  8. Alone or in groups, in conversation or in writing, students reflect on their learning process.
    Students respond to questions including:
    How did this activity affect your understanding of the word problem?
    How will this activity affect your ability to solve the word problem accurately?
    In what other context might you use this strategy?
Downloadable Resources 
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