Story Problems

Based on Carol Stephenson’s Mathematics Lesson

To view a detailed lesson plan, please click here

Curriculum – Number Sense and Numeration

For students to begin to develop an understanding of numbers using concrete materials to explore and investigate counting, quantity, and number relationships.


Students and the teacher begin by sitting in a circle with a working mat in front of them and a collection of small wooden cubes in the top left-hand corner. The teacher begins by explaining the wooden cubes are in their “starting corner” and that the opposite side is their “take away corner.” The teacher explains that students will be using the cubes to represent a number of different items in the story. 


  • Working mat for each student
  • Small wooden cubes or small manipulative


  • The teacher begins by telling a story. For example:

    My brother loves to have candy. For his upcoming birthday, I went to the store and bought him his favourite candy. I bought two lollipops and four sour keys. Can you show me these candies using your cubes? How many pieces of candy did I buy altogether?


  • At this point, the teacher gives students an opportunity to count the pieces and raise their hand when they have an answer.
  • Students are asked not to shout out so that all students have an opportunity to count up the pieces.
  • Students will share their answers one-by-one and then students will count their cubes altogether.
    The teacher may also ask how students arrived at their answer (by counting, adding, etc.).
  • Initially, this may need prompting, such as “I saw you touching each cube and counting.”
  • The teacher continues with the story…

    When I got home, I made sure to hide the candy so that my brother would not find it and eat it! Then I went out for a run and when I got home three candy pieces were gone! Can you move those pieces to your takeaway corner? How many pieces do I have left to give to my brother as a present?


  • Once again, the teacher gives students an opportunity to count the pieces.
    In order to share different strategies, the teacher can ask students how they arrived at their answers.
  • The story continues and is adapted depending on the students’ needs and abilities.

*A script for each story problem is available – click here to view.

Extension Lessons and Activities
Increase the numbers you are working with

  • Teachers can increase the number students are working with as students become more sophisticated in their numeracy skills. For example, working with a total number of 10 or 13 instead of 8 or 9.

Make the story more complex

  • The story can be more complicated. For example:
    – I saw two dancing cows. How many legs were dancing?
    – Different people came to visit me on varying modes of transportation. There was one bicycle, and one wagon parked on my lawn. How many wheels were parked on my lawn?

Use story problems to teach comparison

  • For example:
    – There were a group of little bears that wanted to go on a picnic. There were seven little bears, and two parent bears. How many bears were there altogether?
    – Before they left to go on their picnic, they had to pack some sandwiches. Five bears wanted honey sandwiches and four bears wanted honey. How many more bears wanted honey?


  • Take note of where students are in their learning and alter the story to fit their needs. Similar stories may need to be repeated before moving on to the next story.
  • Children should be encouraged to arrange the manipulatives in a way that makes sense to them.