Three Reads

This past week, teachers met to review our professional learning cycle focused on 3-Reads. Our students often struggle with word problems for many reasons including – complex vocabulary, intimidation of length, difficulty visualizing the problem, and lack of comprehension. 3-Reads is a strategy for solving complex word problems. Each time the students read the word problem, they are reading for a specific purpose – retelling vocabulary, making a visual representation, and creating a question. The 3-Reads protocol helps our students because it breaks complex word problems into manageable tasks while helping them understand the differences in operations based on the question being asked.

The Three Reads protocol is one way to do a close read of a complex math word problem or task. It is designed to engage students in making sense of language rich math problems or tasks. It deepens student understanding by surfacing linguistic as well as mathematical clues. It focuses attention on the importance of understanding problems rather than rapidly trying to solve them. It allows for natural differentiation within a class of diverse learners.


The objectives of this PD were:

  • Analyze 3-Reads data
  • Clarify 3-Reads protocol

Elements of a 3-Read Protocol


  • Facilitates conversation
  • Models as needed
  • Refers to 3-Reads protocol
  • Strategic planning of problem situations
  • Modeling content/language vocabulary


  • Participate in partner/group talk
  • Explain their thinking
  • Active listening

Room Environment

  • Sentence frames to support conversation
  • Vocabulary – word bank created with students
  • Strategic seating
  • Manipulatives are accessible (paper, cubes, etc)


Before Teaching

Prior to beginning, it is important to select a problem stem – one without a question at the end. This will help the students focus on the contextual and mathematical information before solving the questions the could be posed.

  • Questions:
    • Are there multiple questions that can come from the information provided?
    • Is this a complex word problem or task?

1st Read – Retell and Vocabulary

This is the read where students develop a context of the story. An understanding of the vocabulary words, character, and situations are developed. The numbers/quantities are also identified.

  • Questions to ask students:
    • What is going on in the story?
    • Who are the characters?
    • What words are important?
    • What are the quantities/numbers in the problem?
  • Modifications:
    • Annotations
    • Word Bank

2nd Read – Visual Representation

A mental picture of the quantities in the problem is created. This will help students see how the numbers will change depending on the mathematical operation and the question.

  • Questions to ask students:
    • How can you draw what is happening in the story?
    • Think about a way you can draw out what is happening.
  • Modifications:
    • Manipulatives
    • Prompts and cues

3rd Read – Create a Question

Students work to create questions that can be solved using the given information.

  • Questions to ask students:
    • What words can we add to make this a math problem?
  • Modifications:
    • Sentence frames for questions
    • Reminder of accountable talk norms
    • Encourage questions of different levels
    • Have students solve each other’s questions

Students often struggle with restating word problems in their own words; 3-Reads gives them a strategy to use when they are solving a complex word problem. Throughout the Three Reads process, students are:

  • Restating the word problem
  • Identifying the operation
  • Visualizing the structure
  • Recognizing patterns
  • Breaking down the word problem into logical steps
  • Using various strategies
  • Justifying their thinking

Videos from SFUSD

**Video of Feaster Charter teacher will be coming soon**

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