Bar Modeling

  My school uses Singapore Math up through sixth grade. Singapore Math does a wonderful job of helping students think like mathematicians, gain number sense, and understand WHY they do something, not just how to do it. Growing up, while math was challenging for me, I was able to memorize steps. As math got more complicated, this hindered me as I didn’t understand why I did what I did. Teaching Singapore Math has helped me understand math better, and I often find myself implementing strategies I teach to my students when I’m encountered with a math problem and don’t have my phone handy.

When my students return from fall break on Tuesday, we are going to begin bar modeling. While many math curriculums teach students to solve word problems by drawing a picture, Singapore math teaches word problems through bar modeling.

Every year when I start bar modeling, I like to put a problem up on the board and have my students first write how they feel when they see a word problem. Do they feel confident? Do they feel anxious? This helps me gauge how to begin. Once I have this understanding of their comfort level, I am better able to introduce bar modeling to them.

When I was a kid, word problems always intimidated me. I was never taught how to read the problem like a mathematician, nor was I taught strategies for solving it besides creating a number sentence. How could I write a number sentence if I didn’t know what the problem was asking?

In Singapore Math, when students are taught word problems, they are taught how to read and think about different types of problems. They learn to ask themselves, “What is this question asking me to find: a part or a whole; or am I being asked to compare quantities?”

When I first started teaching this, I was amazed at how using this language helped guide the students to understanding what they were looking for and which model they should implement–a part-whole model or a comparison model. I wish that I had had this language as a child!

A word problem for you:

Screen Shot 2016-10-05 at 10.56.09 PM.pngClick here to watch a little demo of how to solve the above  word problem using Singapore math.

As you saw in the video, students are engaged in disciplinary literacy when solving word problems in Singapore math. They are thinking like mathematicians, while also engaging in literacy practices of reading text, synthesizing text, and formulating a response by restating the question. Students then look wholistically at their “destination sentence” and model and think about if it makes sense, just like they look at a word when decoding.


Because this comes fairly early in the year in our math curriculum, I have found that this is often a perfect segue for me to talk about restating the question when answering questions in academic disciplines, such as a reading comprehension assessment. We talk about academic language and when we need to restate a question, and when we might not need to restate the question. I always look forward to the day when a student makes the connection, “O, this is like our destination sentence in math!” To see students make these literacy connections across disciplines, shows me even more the beauty of disciplinary literacy.

-Anna S.


2 thoughts on “Bar Modeling

  1. mereadair87 October 9, 2016 / 2:56 am

    We use Singapore math too! Bar modeling does help students especially if they have been taught Singapore math strategies from Kindergarten. One challenge I had with Singapore math is when students move into the district from a school that doesn’t use these strategies. I always felt like I was confusing the child and had parents complain. I love how you connected solving word problems to reading! If students make this connection, hopefully the word problem will be less intimidating!

    Liked by 1 person

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