This study scrutinises approaches and thinking processes displayed by the elementary school students when solving real-world problems. It employed a qualitative inquiry to produce rich and realistic data about the case at hand. The research sample included 116 students. The data were obtained from written exam and semi-structured interviews, and they were analysed using content and discourse analysis methods. The results indicated that most of the students disregarded the real-life situations that the problems are related to. They displayed non-realistic approaches that included application of rules, procedures, and factual knowledge in a straightforward and uncritical way. Most of the students lacked the ability to use alternative approaches and appropriate strategies. Some constructed models of the problem situations, yet most of these students were not able to utilise these instruments as a conceptual tool to gain insight into the situations. Rather, models were used as part of the routine - rules, procedures and factual knowledge - that the students applied uncritically.