One of my favorite things to do is to give students complex story problems and brainstorm all of the different ways we can solve it. Over the years I have noticed that students often just start "doing math" with whatever numbers the story provides before assessing what question is being asked and what information they have been given.
In my SlushMath Riddle Videos I always ask "What do you know and what are they asking?" Taking a moment to identify the overall question and the information you are provided will allow your brain time to make connections.
If students don't have a clear plan after this my advice is to always sketch something visual to engage their brain in another modality. Using visuals can simplify a problem greatly especially if you have learned to be flexible with your number sense. A great example of this is how we solve the Painting the House Riddle below by organizing our information and then sketching it out.
Practice these 3 things next time you are given a problem.
Identify: What are they asking? What do you know?
Sketch it out
Be Flexible with your number sense! (Watch my riddles to see it in action!)