Ioan set up some multiplication word problems for Finny, based on his favourite series of books, Rabbit and Bear. They involved reading the problem, picking out the key information, then working out which calculation(s) to use.


  • Whitebords and pens
  • Base ten set
  • Place value counters
  • Animal figures
  • Log slices and sticks

What is a word problem?

A word problem in maths is a question written as one sentence or more that requires children to apply their maths knowledge to a ‘real-life’ scenario. 

Why are word problems important?

When they become adults, they’ll be dealing with situations that will need to be solved in multiple steps. When they learn how to solve these problems as children, they’re developing skills for later life.

It’s a brilliant way to stimulate their creative thinking and teach them how to improvise. This is as true for the child writing the problem (in this case it was Ioan) as for the one solving it (today it was Finny).

Both boys absolutely love planning challenges for each other and finding ways to link the maths to their brother’s interests. Not only does it keep them engaged, it gives them ownership of their learning and enormous pride in their work.

It’s a fantastic way to reinforce their independent thinking, too. This will help them come up with new and inventive ways to solve problems.

Problem 1 – Wolf is working out the number of rabbits in the woods…

Step 1 – Ioan had set up the rings as an example of the part-whole method. It can demonstrate the relationship between a number (whole) and it’s components (parts). In this example, the whole was the 45 rabbits in each wood and the components were split in to four tens and five ones.

Step 2 – Finny had to multiply the components by the number of woodlands (five).

Problem 2 – Woodpecker has made lots of holes in trees…

Step 1 – Sort the place value counters in to the Hundreds, Tens and Ones columns.

Step 2 – Calculate three times as many.

Step 3 – Exchange any ‘extras’ to work out the total.

Problem 3 – Rabbit and Bear have both made a pile of snowballs…

Step 1 – Work out the combined mass of Rabbit’s snowballs.

Step 2 – Work out the combined mass of Bear’s snowballs. NB. We’ve just finished looking at column addition, so with only trying column multiplication for the first time yesterday, Finny sometimes slips back into addition rather than multiplication.

Step 3 – Work out who has the heaviest pile of snowballs and by how much.

Problem 4 – Caster is building 9 dams…

Step 1 – Find the information in the question that is needed to work out the calculation.

Step 2 – Complete the multiplication. NB. Ioan had set out the columns for Finny to use and had added the commas for the breaks between millions and hundred thousands, as well as thousands and hundreds. Finny normally adds his commas at the end of his sum, so placed his ‘thousands’ under the comma, making it hard to spot when calculating. Once this was pointed out he was able to correct himself and continue.

Before and after

Pilli came in and wanted her picture taken with the finished word problems. Finny thought she was auditioning for a role as a character in Rabbit and Bear and decided she’d make a great wolf in the 5th book.

DfES National Curriculum (2013)

Numeracy Year 4 programme of study

Number – multiplication and division

  • recall multiplication and division facts for multiplication tables up to 12 × 12
  • use place value, known and derived facts to multiply and divide mentally
  • recognise and use factor pairs and commutativity in mental calculations
  • multiply two-digit and three-digit numbers by a one-digit number using formal written layout
  • solve problems involving multiplying and adding, including using the distributive law to multiply two digit numbers by one digit