Does anyone have extensive classroom experience regarding the best verb tense to use when writing word problems at an elementary or middle school level? I have been writing some lessons recently and I never really thought about it until now. My M.Ed. program focused mainly on high school mathematics and placed much more emphasis on theory than classroom experience. I'd really like to know what works best in practice. Thanks.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Interesting question! I guess they're usually written in the past tense: "Xia had 3 apples, Jose had 2." And then sometimes in present: "Xia is baking a pie. She needs 3 apples. Jose can give her 2." I suppose that one could be written in future. I have thought more about 3rd person vs 2nd person. If the problem says that you are doing something, does that involve the student more? I have no answers. $\endgroup$
    – Sue VanHattum
    Feb 16 at 18:56
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, in my item writing/editing experience with high-stakes tests, the context is often put in past tense so that a problem can't be challenged on the basis that we don't really know whether such-and-such happened. For example, "John wishes to give 4 applies to Sally and $\ldots$" would be "John gave 4 apples to Sally and $\ldots$". Or if for some reason the present or future tense is needed, then the question would later have something like "According to John's wishes $\dots$". Of course, this is all beside the point for the OP's question. $\endgroup$ Feb 16 at 19:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DaveLRenfro Thanks for the added insight. Although as you noted, it was not my original question, it's also helpful to know the motivating factors behind the word questions coming from sources outside the classroom. $\endgroup$
    – Ari
    Feb 16 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ Which language are these word problems to be written in? Different languages have quite different tenses and connotations for them. $\endgroup$
    – Tommi
    Feb 17 at 7:32


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.