Math Homework 101: Number Stories

Let’s talk number stories. I know, I know. I hear the collective groans. But, bear with me. We can and will tackle these.
What are number stories? Quite simply, they’re word problems. (Don’t ask me why they changed the name. I have no idea.) Number stories combine reading and math. Many times it’s a way to show how math relates to real life. Kids want to know why they have to learn this stuff. Number stories can show the why.
Before we go further, I do have to say one thing. I have seen some poorly written number stories that are just down-right confusing. There is no excuse for that. None. That being said, it’s not that hard to write a number story that is clear and easy to understand.
Let’s get started!
Check out the above story. This is very similar to ones that I’ve seen in my child’s homework. Your child may be asked to do a few things with these problems.
First: Draw the number story. For some reason, this seemed so complicated to me when I first saw this question on my daughter’s homework. I realized one day that it was just my over-complicated adult brain that had issues with it. But, it’s really simple. See my balloon drawings? That’s all that’s involved, really. Draw Marie’s balloons, then draw the one that flew away. That’s it. And quite frankly, my picture is way more complicated than it needs to be. This is not an art project; it’s a math problem. Just keep telling yourself to keep it simple. What does this accomplish? It helps your child visualize the problem. Some kids need this visualization and this will help them.
Second: Write a number model. Let me translate this one for you. All this means is to write your math problem. In the above number story, your number model is 2 + 4 = 6. Simple, right. Don’t let the new terms confuse you.
Is your child having difficulty writing the number model? First, they will need to pick out the numbers. Then, help them find clues in the words to figure out what they need to do to the numbers. A big clue in the above problem is the word “more”. It indicates an addition problem. You can also have them draw the number story to help them come up with the number model even if their homework doesn’t ask them to do that step. Help them draw the problem on scrap paper if they need the additional visual help.
Third: Fill in the unit box. This is another step that I over-complicated for the longest time. Good thing my daughter was able to explain it to me. Gah. The unit is the item that you are counting. In this case, our unit is apples. In the picture below, the unit is pennies. Easy, right?


Are number stories getting a little clearer? I hope so. Just think simple and refer back to this post for help with all the new terms.
Special note: If your child is having problems with number stories because of their reading level, I would encourage you to talk to their teacher. He/she can give you strategies to help. Plus, it is always helpful to make sure that both you and your child’s teacher are aware of the areas where your child struggles. At home, you can help them by reading through the problems together. Help them learn the words that come up often (ex: more, less) and work with them to find word clues. They have the ability to learn this if given the tools to help. You’ve got this parents.


Additional Math Homework 101 posts: 
Using a Number Line
The Hundred Chart


The following two tabs change content below.
Terri is a writer and mom of two elementary-aged girls. She has a passion for learning and is always looking for ways to make learning fun. You can find her at Better Than Homework where she shares fun learning activities or Creative Family Fun where she shares art, craft, and family fun ideas.

Latest posts by Terri Thompson (see all)