Using Close Reading to help solve Word Problems in Math

So close reading has been a hit in the literacy classroom at least for the last 5 years since I have been teaching. Students have shown great gains when taught to closely read their text. So why not take those same strategies and apply them to teaching students to tackle word problems with closely reading them!

I teach STEM to two wonderful groups of students. When we first reviewed solving word problems at the beginning of the year, they got it. However, when we started to dabble in multi-step word problems, it's like we were attempting to solve ancient Roman hieroglyphics. I found that they just weren't paying attention to what was going on in the problem. They saw numbers and then a keyword and assumed they should add and be done. The other problem I noticed was the lack in effort to check their work. I would say, did you check your work, they would look into the distance and respond YEP! Insert eye roll here, it's ok, that's how I felt too!! I was ready to give up!

So, thinking about how we teach to closely read a text, I thought perhaps this would work for my students! Fingers were crossed anyway!

The first day I introduced this I had all the kids come to the rug and we explicitly discussed each of the 5 steps to Math Close Reading. So first step is the students are going to read the math problem and describe it in their own words. It is important here that they are describing the actions, not necessarily the amounts in the word problem. For example, if the word problem were "Perry had 45 baseball cards. His mom got him 24 at the store and then he gave 32 to his sister Lyndsey. How many cards does Perry have now?'  You would model explaining this in your own words by saying 'Perry had a lot of baseball cards, mom got him some more, but then he gave some to his sister, and now I have to figure out how many he has now?' The focus is not on the numbers, but on what is truly happening in the text.

Step 2, the students are going to re-read the word problem, pick out any important details (such as amounts or words that indicate to add or subtract), circle anything that doesn't make sense and fill out the do/what chart. I have to say, I stole the idea of the do/what chart from a brilliant ELA teacher at my school. In a do/what chart, the students reads the text and writes a word (action word on the do side) and then writes what they are going to do (on the what side) because of that word. So in the example I gave in the paragraph above, I would write 'Mom got' on the do side and then I would write add on the what side. To figure out this step of the word problem you have to add, and you know to add because of the act of Mom giving him 24 more cards. I would also write 'gave 32' on the do side and 'subtract' on the what side, because to figure out this step of the word problem you would have to subtract because of Perrys' act of giving his sister 32 cards.  At this point while students are working, I circulate the room, to make sure that no one has circled anything that they don't understand--and if they do have questions I am available to help them with those.

Step 3, the students re-read for a 3rd read, to make sure they completely understand and didn't miss anything important. Once they've read it again, they will then start the process of solving. I let them use whichever method I've taught to tackle the addition and subtraction. Then I have them write their explanation to go with their work, so they are practicing writing out their thinking--and this also helps them as they are looking over their work to write about it--to catch any mistakes they may have made.

Step 4, I have them share/tell/show a partner their work. In a perfect world, the person sitting next to them would be their partner, but since they all work at different paces, getting done the same time as the person sitting next to them does not normally happen. So as they get done, they stand and look around the room for another student who is standing looking, and then they share/tell/show their work with them. When we first starting sharing/showing to a partner, I felt like my students were not taking it as serious---so when I told them they would be given a grade for their partners' work--they were much more invested (even though that's not what I did). 

Step 5, the final step is that the students need to go back and check their work. So often they are quick to jump up and say "I'M DONE!" without ever truly checking their answer. 

Each day we did a word problem and then when everyone was finished, I would pull it up on the projector to go over with the students. Each day I modeled the steps to close reading the math problem, and by the end of the week, the students made tremendous gains! They are finally starting to understand! We are going to continue working with the math close reading, as I am planning on incorporating it as a daily warm-up!

If you would like to try math close reading in your class room with the printables and layout I used, you can find it here:

Another strategy I snatched up from my literacy teacher counterparts was CONFERENCING! I have found the power in meeting with a student and setting personal goals for them to work on has kept them focused and determined to achieve their goals!
And you can find the conferencing sheet HERE for free! As always, any questions, suggestions, or comments, email me at


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