School-Based Intervention Idea from


Applied Problems: Encourage Students to Draw to Clarify Understanding  (Van Essen & Hamaker, 1990; Van Garderen, 2006)

Making a drawing of an applied, or ‘word’, problem is one easy heuristic tool that students can use to help them to find the solution.

An additional benefit of the drawing strategy is that it can reveal to the teacher any student misunderstandings about how to set up or solve the word problem. To introduce students to the drawing strategy, the teacher hands out a worksheet containing at least six word problems. The teacher explains to students that making a picture of a word problem sometimes makes that problem clearer and easier to solve. The teacher and students then independently create drawings of each of the problems on the worksheet. Next, the students show their drawings for each problem, explaining each drawing and how it relates to the word problem. The teacher also participates, explaining his or her drawings to the class or group. Then students are directed independently to make drawings as an intermediate problem-solving step when they are faced with challenging word problems. NOTE: This strategy appears to be more effective when used in later, rather than earlier, elementary grades.


Van Essen, G., & Hamaker, C. (1990). Using self-generated drawings to solve arithmetic word problems. Journal of Educational Research, 83, 301-312.

Van Garderen, D. (2006). Spatial visualization, visual imagery, and mathematical problem solving of students with varying abilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 39, 496-506.

Copyright ©2021 Jim Wright