Verbal Problem Solving Activities

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

Do your students need to work on verbal problem-solving skills? These activities include both group and individual practice in using language that is helpful to work through problems. Try them with your elementary school or ELL students.

Verbal Problem Solving

Conflict resolution and problem-solving can be challenging for students of any age. Younger students and English Language Learners benefit from being taught language that they can use when solving problems and from practicing the art of talking through problems. These verbal problem-solving activities are designed for elementary students but can be easily adapted for older English Language Learners as well.

Activity: Phrase Jar

Objective: Use appropriate language to discuss problems and solutions.

Materials: Jar full of problem-solving phrases

  • Preparation: Make a list of problem-solving phrases and write each phrase on a small slip of paper. Put the papers in a jar. Choose your phrases based on the age and needs of your students. Sample phrases:
    • The problem we have is. . .
    • Resources we can use include. . .
    • People we can ask for help are. . .
    • When this happens, I can. . .
    • My concerns are. . .
    • The first step should be. . .
  • Seat students in a circle.
  • Announce a general problem topic. This may be something fanciful, such as ''You find yourself alone on a deserted island,'' or something practical, like ''The power goes out in the middle of the school day.''
  • Give the jar to the first student.
  • The student pulls a phrase out of the jar and reads the phrase aloud.
  • The student uses the phrase in an appropriate sentence. For example, ''The problem we have is that without electricity we can't see to do our work,'' or ''People we can ask for help are the custodians and the office staff.''
  • Practice using problem-solving phrases for several rounds or repeat the activity in short intervals several times throughout the week. Change the problem topic as necessary.

Activity: Problem Solving Story

Objective: Write a story about a character who solves a problem.

Materials: Paper and pencil

  • Talk about ways people solve problems. Review problem-solving phrases, especially if you have already done the previous activity.
  • Each student writes a story about a character who solves a problem.
  • Stories should include:
    • a clearly defined problem
    • steps the character takes to solve the problem
    • the character using problem-solving phrases
    • the solution the character finds to the problem
  • Optional: students go through the process of peer editing and revising their stories.
  • Students present their stories to the class in one of two ways:

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