Series: Ideas at Work

Using the 3-Reads Strategy to Make Sense of Math Problems

math word problems 636x363

Teachers in four schools recently tried a mathematics and language comprehension strategy called 3-Reads to help their PreK-2nd grade students make sense of a problem before they set out to solve it. This was part of our partnership with Big Shoulders, which develops classroom teachers as math leaders in Chicago’s Catholic schools.

The 3-Reads strategy begins with a problem stem. A problem stem is a mathematical situation without any question to answer. This postpones finding a solution until students make sense of the context, clarify any tricky language, and make connections between the known quantities. To do this, the teacher reads the problem situation three times, each time with a particular focus.

  • The first time, the goal is to comprehend what’s happening. The teacher may ask how they would describe the situation in their own words? Can they draw a picture? Can they act it out?
  • The second time, the goal is to comprehend the mathematical information. This introduces the numbers but does not pose any questions. At this point students may make a class list of all the quantities and their units, or perhaps make observations about relationships between quantities.
  • The third time, the goal is to come up with all the possible mathematical questions. At this point the problem to solve becomes clear.
Two teachers at St. Thomas the Apostle tried the 3-Reads math strategy in their first grade classrooms using a math story and a series of engaging photographs they created. They read the situation three times, after each time stopping to discuss with students or asking partners to turn and talk together. Their particular story involved elves because it was leading up to the holidays, but other contexts meaningful to children could work just as well.
3-reads math word problems elves
Read 1: “There were some elves at St. Thomas the Apostle. There were some elves at Maggie Daley Park and there were some elves at the zoo.”
Read 2: “There were 15 elves in Chicago. 4 elves were at St. Thomas the Apostle. 7 elves were at Maggie Daley Park and the rest of the elves were at the zoo.”
Read 3: “There were 15 elves in Chicago. 4 elves were at St. Thomas the Apostle. 7 were elves at Maggie Daley Park and the rest of the elves were at the zoo. How many elves were at the zoo?”

Another teacher at St. Terese used one of Graham Fletcher’s 3-Act Lessons Counting Squares to explore pattern and numbers. After being shown a picture of a pile of colored tiles, the kindergarten class discussed the situation and what questions may be posed about it. Students then used different approaches to figure out how many tiles are in the pile. After working on solutions, the class came back together to discuss how making a pattern helped them answer the question. An extension to the problem was to explore what if there was one more row added to the bottom, then how many tiles would be in that row and what color would they be?
3-reads math word problems

More Resources on the 3-Reads Protocol:

Why is this important?

Too often, students fail to comprehend the story behind the math problem and struggle to find reasonable solutions. Using problem stems and the 3-Read strategy puts the emphasis on making sense first before making any computations. When children get in the habit of coming up with their own mathematical question, they are more likely to persevere to solve them.

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Common Core Alignment

Operations and Algebraic Thinking More

Foundational Math Concepts

Source: Erikson Institute • Copyright: Erikson Institute • Content ID: Not specified

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What do you think?

  1. Comment icon
    Reply

    Kristen

    March 13, 2018 at 10:58am

    “A problem stem is a mathematical situation without any question to answer. This postpones finding a solution until students make sense of the context, clarify any tricky language, and make connections between the known quantities.”

    I really like this. Too often, emphasis is placed on the result and the “correct” method of solving rather than making sure students understand the how and why of math problems. Thank you for sharing this process!

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