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5 Essential Math Word Problem IEP Goals | TeachTastic

Updated: 17 hours ago

For special education teachers, IEP goals and lesson plans seem to be the bane of our existence. We are often asked to write goals that are impossible to measure and lack creativity. However, writing IEP goals doesn't have to be so difficult. In fact, it can be quite simple if you know what you're doing.

Solving Word Problem IEP Goals | Problem Image

When writing IEP goals for math word problems, you should keep a few things in mind. But first, I'll start with a story on how I've tackled writing a few goals myself.

This story begins with me being hard at work on just an ordinary day in the life of a sped math teacher. Just when I think I've written the perfect activity for one-to-one correspondence for your kindergarten math skill level students and I'm sitting down organizing a box of manipulatives to start my day. I am slightly proud of myself for being prepared and savoring the brief moment of quiet before students arrive.

Alas, the quiet is broken.

In walks a general education teacher looking for support for word problems. My brain has to code shift at a moment's notice, and there I go off and running, explaining all the different types of word problems and how I have strategies for teaching each kind.

Subtraction word problems?

Double-digit numbers in word problems?

Two-step word problems?

Word problems for multiplication where a student will identify equal groups?

What kind of math word problems are we talking about here?

She laughs and replies, I'd better take a seat...

There is a great deal of comedy in that line of questioning but in actuality, special education teachers really do have to understand all the grade levels and strategies for teaching word problems and all other math state standards for grades kindergarten through twelfth grade. So I'd like to see this particular or any general education teacher pull that out of their hat.

As the conversation progressed, we got down to two issues her students were struggling with

  1. They are not independently reading the word problem with complete comprehension of the academic (math) vocabulary.

  2. They are not extracting correct information and forming a problem in the correct order.

No matter what type of word problem, these two topics seem universal, so let's get right to plotting solutions. Then we will have a foundation of where to start our iep goal creation and their many objective options.

Practice Solving Word Problems Often

When it comes to math, many students tend to panic at the mere mention of word problems. However, word problems are an essential part of math, and they can be pretty helpful in developing problem-solving skills. For one thing, word problems force students to slow down and read carefully, which is often difficult to do in a fast-paced math class.

In addition, word problems provide a context for understanding how mathematics can be applied in the real world. In other words, solving word problems can help students see that math is not just a bunch of abstract rules but something that can be used to solve real-life problems. As a result, special education teachers need to use word problems whenever possible so that students have ample opportunity to gain confidence and become comfortable with the process.

Word problems are a great way for special education teachers to introduce new skills. They help with engagement by letting students see the relevance in their everyday lives. This allows students to understand how the skill can be applied in practical ways, which inevitably leads to greater buy-in.

There are a variety of ways to incorporate math word problems into your instruction. One way is to use them as a daily warm-up. This can be done by writing a word problem on the board or overhead and having students solve it as they come into class. Another way is to use word problems as part of a lesson. For example, if you are teaching addition, you could begin with some basic problems and then gradually introduce more difficult ones. As students become more comfortable with the process, they will be better able to handle more challenging word problems.

No matter how you choose to use them, it is important to provide students with plenty of opportunities to practice solving word problems. The best advice is to not just think about using them but actually do it. Every day and any day is a good day for word problem practice.

Teaching Word Problem Keywords

Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. These are the operations that students must be able to understand and complete in word problems to be successful in mathematics. However, these operations present a great challenge for many special education students. This is due to various factors, including executive functioning deficits and difficulty with abstract concepts. However, there are things that special education teachers can do to help their students be successful with word problems.

One of the most important things that teachers can do is to teach keyword vocabulary and why it is important. Keywords such as increased by, difference between, product of, out of, and is, are essential for understanding word problems. By explicitly teaching these words and their meanings, special education students will better understand the word problems they are presented with. In addition, teachers need to provide concrete examples of word problems that include these keywords. This will help students see how these words are used in context and aid in their understanding.

The following is a list of the most popular keywords for word problems, organized by topic:


  • added to

  • altogether

  • combined

  • comparatives ("greater than", etc)

  • increased by

  • in all

  • more than

  • perimeter

  • plus

  • sum

  • together

  • total of


  • decreased by

  • difference between

  • dropped

  • exceed

  • fewer than

  • greater than

  • how many less

  • how much more

  • left

  • less

  • minus

  • more than

  • reduced by

  • the rest


  • each ("they got three each", etc)

  • increased/decreased by a factor of

  • of

  • product of

  • save (old-fashioned term)

  • times, multiplied by

  • twice, triple, etc


  • average

  • equal pieces, split

  • out of

  • per, a

  • percent (divide by 100)

  • the ratio of, the quotient of


  • is

  • are

  • was

  • were

  • will be

  • gives

  • yields

  • sold for

  • cost

Create Problem-Solving Routines

Another important strategy that can be used to help special education students with word problems is to provide a clear and concise model of how to solve the problem. This can be done using a variety of methods, such as a problem-solving routine or anchor chart.

A problem-solving routine is simply a step-by-step guide that students can follow when they are presented with a word problem. This routine should include steps such as reading the problem, identifying the keyword, extracting the information, and solving the problem. By having a routine in place, students will know exactly what to do when they are presented with a word problem.

McGraw Hill Teaching Word Problems

How to Teach Students to Make Sense of Mathematical Word Problems

Visualize or Model the Problem

Encourage students to think of word problems as a story or scenario. This can help them to visualize the problem and make it more accessible. Graphic organizers can be used to draw story pictures or diagrams that model the problem and show the relationships between different elements. Graphic organizers are especially useful for visual learners or those who need extra support in understanding a problem.

Additionally, Graphic organizers can be used with a variety of math manipulatives, such as number lines, Cuisenaire rods, and place value charts. This allows for differentiation, as different students can use different manipulatives that best meet their needs.

Introducing One Number at a Time

When introducing word problems to students, it is important to gradually increase the level of difficulty. An easy way to do this is to introduce one number at a time. For example, start with a word problem with only one number variable, such as "Sam had _____ apples. He gave _____ away. How many apples does he have left?"

  1. Introduce the first number as three and have the students fill in the blank.

  2. Ask how many apples does Sam have?

  3. Using manipulatives to establish a visual of three apples or objects

  4. Introduce the second number as two and have the students on the blank.

  5. Ask the students to reread the problem in its entirety and determine which operation they will need to use.

Students are using the graphic organizer they will be able to fill in key information such as:

  • What is the problem asking?

  • What information do I need to know?

  • What information do I know?

  • What are the important numbers and units?

  • What operation am I going to use?

Once students are comfortable with solving this type of problem, you can gradually increase the number of variables, such as "Sam had three apples. He gave two away and then he found one on the ground. How many apples does he have now?"

For daily practice, use this same word problem but change the numbers and the keyword is given away to get them used to different variations before changing the word problem entirely.

Because many students look at big numbers and give up before even attempting the problem, the strategy works particularly well for stamina building. Start with single-digit numbers that can be increased by an odd number, such as three or seven, with each repetition of the word problem. Eventually, you will get to triple digits while allowing the students to gain confidence with a very low fear of threshold.

Other helpful information you might like

Annotating Guide for Key Information in Word Problems

  • circle important numbers and labels

  • underlined the question

  • box in operation clues

I've seen similar strategies referred to as C.U.B.E.S but I found that using this full layout conflicted with the graphic organizer models that I was using and cause students confusion with additional vocabulary. In my opinion, it was just easier to keep it simple with the above-listed strategies, circle, underline, and box.

District, State, and National Assessments

No matter what strategies or methods you choose to teach students, they must always be in line with how the students will be presented with word problems on high-stakes assessments. Make sure that if you're teaching keywords they are the right ones and if you are using manipulatives or graphic organizers know in advance that that form of differentiation and scaffolding will need to be set to a gradual release in preparation for the final assessment. Accommodations are only meant to be short-term to help the learner access the material but when it comes to testing time you know you need to do the right thing and have the fully prepared without any form of the tool they will not have access to on the testing day.

IEP Goals for Word Problems and How to Create Them

IEP Goal: Given a word problem, the student will read it aloud with _____% accuracy as measured by _____.

This is just one example of an IEP goal you could write for reading word problems aloud.

But what if we want to get more specific? Let's say that we want the student to be able to read aloud a word problem and answer it correctly 80% of the time. We could write an IEP goal that says:

IEP Goal: Given a word problem, the student will independently read it aloud and answer it correctly 80% of the time as measured by _____.

This is a great goal, but let's say that we want to add a little bit more to it. We could add:

IEP Goal: Given subtraction word problems, the student will independently read it aloud, answer it correctly 80% of the time, and explain their thinking process using _____ strategy.

The sky's the limit when it comes to adding things to IEP goals, but you get the idea. Now let's move on to the next issue.

IEP Goal: Given a word problem, the student will independently extract the information and write it in mathematical order _____% of the time as measured by _____.

This is a great goal, but let's say that we want to add a little bit more to it. We could add:

IEP Goal: Given a word problem, the student will extract the information, write it in mathematical order, and solve the problem _____% of the time as measured by _____.

Now we're really getting somewhere! These are just a few examples of IEP goals that you could write for word problems, but remember, the sky's the limit. So get creative and come up with some goals that are specific to your students' needs.

If you're looking for ways to help your students with word problems, the tips and strategies we've provided in this blog post should give you a good starting point. But, remember, the sky's the limit when it comes to creating IEP goals, so get creative and develop goals specific to your students' needs. And if you need more help, don't hesitate to reach out to us. We're here to help!

Thank you for reading!

Download a free copy to keep handy when writing your next IEP word problem math goal.

Math IEP Goals For Word Problems _ Special Education
Download PDF • 451KB


Q. What are ways to help students with solving word problems?

A. There are a number of ways that you can help students with word problems. Some strategies that you may want to consider include:

  • Using manipulatives or graphic organizers

  • Teaching keyword recognition

  • Providing opportunities for practice

  • Annotating keywords


“14 Effective Ways to Help Your Students Conquer Math Word ...” We Are Teachers,

Kue, Diane. Solved: A Teacher's Guide to Making Word Problems Comprehensible. Atmosphere Press, 2021.

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