What do math facts like plus 2 or 12 divided by 6 have to do with word problems?

Word problems require language skills. In my family’s case the problems are *en français* which makes drawing out the formulas a bit harder (especially for Dad). In my view the key issue with word problems is encouraging the student to stop and ponder for a second before charging in with adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing.

For example there’s a movie theatre with 40 rows which gives you 500 seats and it’s full except for the 20 seats in the front that are blocked off. How many people are watching the movie?

The whole thing with the rows is a red herring. The student has to see that and then realize all he or she has to do is take 20 away from 500. If they’ve been practicing and have a high computational fluency, then the actual arithmetic is fast.

High speed and accurate mental arithmetic leaves you more time to sort out the word problem so that you are calculating the correct thing.