November 17, 2019 @ 10:13 PM


Teaching IF/THEN Type Problem Solving As An Essential Life Skill!  Ideas and Examples Of What To Teach!

By: Don D’Amore MA CCC-SLP Speech Language Pathologist


     Being able to problem-solve is one the most important skills anyone can have because it can lead to solutions for everything else! If/Then type problem solving/thinking runs through our minds all day.  For example: when you are about to go out to see a movie, your mind will probably automatically go through some if/then type problem solving as you think about avoiding any issues.  Examples: “IF it could be cold in the theater, THEN I better bring a sweater,” “IF my movie is sold out, THEN I should think about which other movie I want to see.”  “IF I decide I want some popcorn, THEN I better bring some extra money with me just in case.”  When you are there you might reconsider that popcorn again and think: “IF I eat a bucket of popcorn, THEN I might gain some weight and not be hungry for my regular dinner.” etc. You can see that problem solving is one of the most important parts of being an independent adult.

      I believe that the ultimate goal for any teacher is that the teacher no longer be needed by their student someday. Whether you’re teaching preschool, or driver’s education, or speech therapy, or medical school, or pretty much anything, every teacher should have the goal that someday their students will no longer be needing them!    A teacher should want their students to learn skills that lead to their independence.  (This starts with independence from needing their teacher some day. Imagine if we all had to always have our driver’s education teacher sitting next to us every time we drove!)  While we can teach facts,  such as the alphabet, math facts, vocabulary, rules of the road, anatomy which are all important,  all of these foundational tools are helpful to what our students really need to function independently:  the skills of PROBLEM SOLVING!

     When a person is skilled at problem solving they could actually do better than those who know more than you about a subject.  For example, let’s say we have three students in a room with an 'unusually high 10 foot ceiling'. We ask each of them separately “About how tall is the ceiling in this room?” The first one says “I can’t tell unless I have a measuring tape or yard stick.”  The second student says: “My father is a carpenter, and he taught me that most rooms are nine feet tall so I say nine feet.”  But the third student walks up to the wall and looks at it and then comes back and says “I think it’s about 10 feet tall because I am five feet tall and the wall is about as tall as two of me!”  The first student knew he could best solve the problem with a measuring tape (which is correct), but he did not have one, so this student did not have an actual answer at this time.   The second student knew facts about common room heights (which shows that he has a good memory for such things). However in this case the room was a little taller and had a 10 foot ceiling and she did not adjust her answer. The third student didn’t have a tool or a knowledge of the subject, but he did have a problem solving ability to use what he did know to figure out his answer.  He knew his own height and he knew he could stand near the wall to make a judgement of how much above him the ceiling was.  He used an IF/THEN problem solving style.  (IF I am half the height of the wall and I am five feet tall, THEN the wall is about 10 feet tall.)    There will be many problems in daily life  which we don’t know all the facts about, and we don’t have the best solution or tools ready. IF we have problem solving skills THEN we can usually figure things out!

How to teach problem solving: As we found, it is not always about knowing facts, or how to use certain tools to be able to problem solve.  Instead of focusing on just getting the right answer when teaching problem solving, instead  explore the answers given and how they may be able to be improved upon.  Asking additional questions helps in the processing of the problem. If the student gives an answer ask followup questions: “Why is this the best answer?" “What other solutions could you try?” “What might go wrong with those?”  These types of follow up questions help the student learn to analyze their answers, explore their options, and to think about the outcomes.  By asking themselves these same sort of questions before they try to solve a real life problem (when their teacher is no longer with them anymore), they learn to make better problem solving solutions.  This is where the learning to solve problems begins.  

 SAFETY: Think about areas in your student’s lives where problem-solving is most needed and most common.  Probably the most important area is safety. First, we obviously don’t want anyone to get hurt. We have probably all heard of students being hurt by accidents or bad decisions.    While sometimes accidents are unavoidable, working with our students on problem-solving common safety issues  can help them to make better decisions in their lives when they are not with us. This helps them to be safer on their own.

HYGIENE: Another common high need problem solving topic area (especially for adolescents) is hygiene. Unfortunately some of our students may not understand all of the components and aspects of good hygiene. Good hygiene is important for staying clean and healthy.  When we smell clean it is much easier to keep friends around than when we smell bad.  

SOCIAL LANGUAGE SKILLS:  Many of our students struggle with making and keeping friends. This leads us to the next important problem solving topic of social skills. Talking about common social life problems and pitfalls helps them to understand what they can do to improve their relationships with others. Teaching them to take the perspective of the other person can help them to understand how people like to be around other people who are nice and polite to them.

LIFE SKILLS: There are also a wide assortment of other basic life skills that can make up most of the other problems in our day. Troublesome things come up in  everyone’s daily routine that require some thought to overcome. Our student’s lives can be made a little bit easier when they know how problem solve these life events.  

Think about the  topic areas above (or other areas that your students have issues with), and write out some common problems that may occur.  Here are some to get you started:

Examples: PROMPT: IF this happens, THEN what should you do?
“Someone  you do not know wants to give you a ride home.”
"The date on the milk in the refrigerator says it is four months old.”
“You get lost when you walk too far from your home.”

"Your shoes get wet and they smell really sour now.”
"You spilled water on your band aid.”
“Your friend tells you you have been smelling bad lately.”

“You want to join in a game other people are playing.”
“Someone calls you a bad name.”
“Your cousin says she’s mad at you, and she doesn’t want you to come to her party.”

“Your markers are dry and won’t write anymore.”
“Your pet bird isn’t eating its food lately.”
“Your notebook that you left out on a table is now missing.”

Write out a  list of common follow-up questions to go over after your students give you their answers for the scenarios you presented.

“IF this happens, THEN what is the best thing to do next?”

“What’s another different thing you could do?”
“Why is one the best solution?”
“What might go wrong if you don’t do anything?"

"Who could help you with this?"
“How bad of a problem is this?”

"Why do your think this problem happened?"

(Not every question applies to every problem.)

     When you’re working with your student  go through your list of problem scenarios.  After they answer go through some of the discussion follow up questions you have. It is important to be positive. We should always be encouraging! Minimize the mistakes your student may make as they learn to problem solve. We should celebrate when they are close to the proper answers, and guide them to the right answers through our follow up discussions.  Working with our  students on problem solving can help lead them to their ultimate goal: To not need us to help them any more!

I have recently created a mega pack resource for this type of problem solving now posted on my
Don D’Amore MA CCC-SLP’s SpeechPage TpT page.  I also have smaller sets for  each of the four topic areas.  Everything comes with illustrated cards and many different helper and display pages to help you help your students to learn to better problem solve throughout their life!


New On Our TpT! (Limited Time Price Reduction!)

Problem Solving Illustrated If/Then Scenarios with WH-Type Question Prompts!

Don D’Amore MA CCC-SLP’s SpeechPage Four New (Or Mega Combo) TpT Download: PROBLEM SOLVING ILLUSTRATED!

60 Cards Per Set! (ALL 240 in the Mega Combo!)

Four different sets! (Of get them all as a Mega Combo!)

★ 60 Different Colorful Illustrated Flash Cards!

★ TWO CARD SIZES INCLUDED: Medium (6 per page) AND LARGE (2 per page) (You choose how much ink you want to use!)

★ 50 Total SpeechPages In Each Set!
★ 8 DIFFERENT HELPER PAGES covering many ways to use the materials and discuss the concepts of these daily life problem solving materials! PLUS: MANY Additional WH-TYPE Question Prompt Suggestions!

Links to these TpT Sets:

Hygiene Topics Problem Solving! 60 Cards!

Life Skills Topics Problem Solving! 60 Cards!

Social Language Topics Problem Solving! 60 Cards!

Safety Topics Problem Solving! 60 Cards!

OR get the MEGA COMBO of ALL FOUR SETS: PROBLEM SOLVING ILLUSTRATED! MEGA COMBO! 240 Cards! 170 Pages! Save the most with this choice!



Click Here to FOLLOW DON ON TpT!