Standard Lesson

Solving the Math Curse: Reading and Writing Math Word Problems

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 60-minute sessions
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This lesson uses the four modalities of reading (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) on a math word problem to bridge the gap between reading and math. After a read-aloud from the book Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, students create their own word problems with answers. Students solve each other's problems. As they reread the word problems, fluency and comprehension increase. Finally, students use the skills they've learned creating word problems to complete a crossword puzzle. As students read the math concept words presented in the puzzle and write the correct answers, their reading and writing math vocabulary skills increase.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Modeling is an important form of classroom support for literacy learning. When the teacher reads the story to students using questioning techniques, the teacher engages students and conveys a purpose for reading. Explicit modeling is achieved as the teacher shows students a way to approach the task of writing their own word problem.

  • Integrating language arts and math incorporates reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills as students listen to the word problems during the read-aloud, share their knowledge, provide feedback to their classmates, and write their own word problems for classmates to share.

  • The rereading strategy helps students improve fluency as they share their knowledge and provide feedback to their peers.
  • Children's books present interesting problems and illustrate how other children solve these problems.

  • Literature can provide the means to integrate math and language skills as children learn to listen, read, write, and solve the math problems.
  • As children read nonfiction books, they listen to the facts about a particular subject. The information is assimilated into what the children already know. Instead of reading the book from cover to cover, students read a small portion of the story, and then they investigate the subject matter presented.

  • As students listen to the story Math Curse they will use it as a springboard for writing their own word problems.

  • Writing their own word problems based on the problems in Math Curse can be motivating for students as well as an excellent way for the teacher to integrate math vocabulary and reading.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (Viking, 1995)

  • Journals or loose-leaf paper

  • Crayons, markers, and pencils with erasers

  • 12-inch rulers

  • Yardstick (optional)

  • Computers with Internet access (optional)



1. Familiarize yourself with the book Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. Be sure to review and solve the word problems on pages 6 and 9 in the book ahead of the lesson.

2. Print out a copy of the "Math Curse Word Problems" puzzle from the online Crossword Puzzles tool (select Play One of Ours and the 3-5 tab; the puzzle appears in the drop-down menu). An answer key can also be printed for reference. For more information about the puzzle see Playing Puzzles: A Guide for Teachers. If a computer lab is available, consider having students complete the crossword puzzle online.

3. Print out the Word Problem Rubric, one for each student in your class.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Implement the four reading modalities by reading and writing their own word problems, presenting their own word problems, and listening to their peers' word problems

  • Create math word problems with smooth transitions, a conclusion, and a correct answer, using a nonfiction book as a guide, to increase fluency and enhance comprehension

  • Apply math vocabulary skills by completing a crossword puzzle using correct spelling of number words

  • Use the rereading strategy to increase fluency and comprehension

Session 1

1. Begin by showing students the cover of the book Math Curse. Ask students, "What does curse mean?" List the variety of student responses on the board. Explain to students that the book is about a kind of curse that involves math. The story is full of math word problems and you will stop occasionally to ask them to solve some of the problems. Explain that when you are finished reading the story, they will have an opportunity to write their own math word problems.

2. Read the story aloud, making sure students are able to see the illustrations in the book. When you get to page 6, stop to discuss the word problems on that page. This is the part of the story where the main character prepares her breakfast and wonders about various measurements.

  • Ask students if they know the answer to the third question: How many inches in a foot? Allow students to respond before holding up a ruler to show that 12 inches are in a foot.

  • Next, ask students the fourth question on that page: How many feet in a yard? After students answer, hold up a yardstick and show students that 3 feet are in a yard. Alternately, you can trace a ruler three times in a single line on the board.
3. Now ask students, "If there are 12 inches in a foot, and three feet in a yard, how many inches are in a yard?" Allow students to work together or alone to solve the problem. Once they decide on an answer, ask students what strategies they used to answer the problem. List all responses on the board. Be sure to discuss any strategies students may have missed.

4. Finish reading the story aloud without making any additional stops to solve the word problems.

5. When the story is finished, go back and reread page 9 aloud: "We sit in 4 rows with 6 desks in each row. What if Mrs. Fibonacci rearranges the desks to make 6 rows? 8 rows? 3 rows? 2 rows?" Explain to students that you will model for them how to write a math word problem using the one from the book. Write the word problem from page 9 on the board and ask students to read the problem silently.

6. Ask students to study the word problem and think about its elements. Explain to students that the word problems they will write should include:

  • A start time and an end time (e.g., a time when they wake up in the morning and a time when they leave for school)

  • A particular number of minutes needed to complete each chore (e.g., it takes ten minutes to get dressed)

  • A question at the end (e.g., "Can I make my bus in time?" or "What time do I leave the house?")

  • An answer to the question, preferably hidden on the other side of their sheet of paper
Note: Students should have loose leaf, crayons, markers, pencils, and rulers for this portion of the lesson.

7. Have students work in groups to write their own word problem. Explain that each group should pick a writer, artist, speaker, and presenter. The writer will write the word problem, complete with math using addition and subtraction. The artist will create a picture that represents the word problem. The picture can be of one sentence or the entire word problem. The speaker will ask questions within the group and keep the group on task while they write and solve the problem. The presenter will read the word problem to the rest of the class and announce the group's answer to the problem. All students will be responsible for creating the word problem, from the beginning to the end (including the correct answer). Inform students that when they work together, they need to listen carefully to one another and speak clearly.

8. Go around the classroom and guide the groups. Make sure that all students keep to their individual roles. After a few minutes, bring the class together and call on each group to present their problems and answers.

Session 2

1. Tell students that in this session they will create their own word problems based on the problems in the book Math Curse. Go back to the story and reread a few of the word problems. Explain that the problems students create must end with a question and that the class will later find the solution. Remind students to include the answer with their word problem but to keep it to themselves. You may want to once again model the word problem from page 9 of Math Curse from the previous session to remind students what a word problem looks like.

2. Give students some time to work on their problems in their math journals. Circulate around the room helping and reading students' word problems. Depending on the math level of your students, they can work alone or in pairs.

3. After students are finished with their word problems, ask students to volunteer to read their word problems to the class. Remind students to make eye contact with the audience as they speak.

4. As the first student reads his or her word problem, quickly write it on the board to model the sentence structure for students. Ask students if the word problem makes sense. If it does, ask the class to solve the problem, checking with the writer for the correct answer. If the problem does not make sense, go back and reread the problem aloud. Questions you may want to ask students include: "How can we figure this out?" or "What do you think this word problem is missing?" You may need to refer back to Math Curse as an example.

5. Depending on time constraints and number of students, have students read their word problems to the class and have the class solve the problems, or have students work in pairs so they can read their word problems to a partner. Partners will then answer each other's questions. Circulate around the room to make sure the vocabulary, sentence structure, and main idea are evident.

Session 3

1. Go back to the page in Math Curse that begins, "I take the milk out for my cereal, and I wonder." Read this page to the class. Discuss the different measurements mentioned on this page. At this time, a minilesson may be required to review these math concepts.

2. Explain to students that they will have the opportunity to solve some of these problems in a crossword puzzle. Hand out the printout of the "Math Curse Word Problems" crossword puzzle from the online Crossword Puzzles tool or bring students to the computer lab to work on it online. Depending on students' math abilities, have them complete the puzzle individually, in pairs, or in small groups.

3. Give students time to complete the crossword puzzle. When everyone is finished, have students volunteer to share their answers.

4. If time permits, return to the online tool and have students create their own math problem crossword puzzles (click Create Your Own from the opening screen).


  • On the inside back cover of the book Math Curse there is a Venn diagram that includes all the stories that Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith wrote together and separately. Students can work in groups and pick one of the stories to read to the class. To help increase fluency, students can practice reading in their groups before they read aloud to the class.

  • Create a "Work Box" for students to access when they have free time. Put word problems in a box. When students are finished their work in reading or math class, they can pick a problem from the box and solve it.

  • Have students access the Authors website to find the biographies of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. Students can then compare the lives of both authors, using the Compare & Contrast Map.

  • Students can create their own word problems as homework to be bound into a three-ring binder for display in the classroom. Students' problems should include a drawing of their word problem and the correct answer.

  • For more ideas for using the online Crossword Puzzles tool, see More Ideas to Try. This page is also appropriate to share with parents and afterschool educators.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Have students complete a Student Self-Assessment Checklist after they write their word problem. You may want to model filling out your own assessment using the word problem from page 9 of Math Curse. Look to see if the student ended the word problem with a question and included a hidden answer. If not, you might want to go back and review the requirements or check to see if the student understands the assignment.

  • Use the Word Problem Rubric to assess each student’s word problem. Is the problem organized? Does the student understand the requirements of a word problem—to end with a question and include an answer to the problem? Is there a drawing? Is spelling correct? Is math computation correct?

  • Observe students as they recite their word problems. Note whether students were able to speak in a clear voice using correct pronunciation of math terms. Note whether students present their information in a logical, sequential format. Plan a minilesson if presentation skills are lacking or in need of improvement.

  • Collect and assess students’ “Math Curse Word Problems” crossword puzzles from the online Crossword Puzzles tool. Were students able to complete the crossword puzzle and correctly spell the math number words?