I spend a lot of time teaching my students how to problem solve. My grade level team does a Problem-a-Day format and works through a whole sheet together as a class. This shows the students the steps to take in solving a problem, how to know what strategies to use, find the important vocabulary, show your work, and verify that their answer is correct. My third graders had a really hard time with this, so whole group direct instruction worked well for me, as well as TONS of repetition. We also have laminated giant posters to do it as a whole group instead of each student having their own sheet every day. As another option, I have had the kids do it inside their math journals or on scratch paper. After the kids get the hang of the routine, these are great ways to check in and keep up the skills. To learn more about where this Four-Step problem solving method came from, read this article from Scholastic.
Once the kids have this scaffolded format down, we move to a less structured format.
I always have them do a Problem of the Day after they finish their Morning Work activity sheet. I have a large flip book of math story problems from my district’s old McGraw Hill math adoption. It’s great! They just sketch this graphic organizer out themselves on scrap paper.