I find that the bar model is an effective tool to help students better understand equal groups and figure out if they need to multiply or divide in an equal group word problem. If they need to know the whole, they place a question mark in the answer box and multiply. If they need to know the part, they put a ? in the bar and divide.
Click here for some multiplication, division and mixed lessons and practice pages using bar models to help students understand and solve equal group word problems.