When a student is not successful in math, teachers usually assume the difficulty is with the student’s mathematical ability or possibly the student’s dislike of mathematics, but the truth may more likely lie with the student’s poor ability to read the mathematics textbook.
In many mathematics problems students encounter, a “key words” approach does not work. Words such as “more” or “altogether” suggest addition and students who depend on key words are likely to use the wrong mathematical process to solve the problems. What we want students to think about is how the numbers in a problem relate to each other. To achieve this focus on the relationship we often encourage students to draw a diagram.
A tape diagram offers student a thinking tool to visually represent a mathematical problem and transform the words into an appropriate numerical operation.
Tape diagrams can be used to provide a common framework in using diagrams as thinking tools. I’ve listed two great links for more information on practical ways to use tape diagrams in the classroom. If you would like some introductory information on tape diagrams send me an email and I’ll forward asap.