Easy to understand math problems are important for emergent readers. There is a tendency for **math word problems** (sometimes called story problems) to be written at a much higher reading level than young, emergent, or struggling readers can decode and comprehend. Students who struggle to decode or lack comprehension skills may also struggle in math due to the unnecessary complexity of the words.

Since math is not the time to assess a child’s reading comprehension, instead give them problems that are easy to understand. Allow their working memory to attend to the math problem, not decoding and comprehending.

Here are some suggestions to write math problems in simpler, easier to understand ways.

### Repeated Sentences for Math Problems

Math problems with repeated sentences give the student a predictable reading pattern to follow. When they catch on to the repetition, their focus will no longer be on decoding, but will be freed for the math problem. Using repeated sentences in math problems helps the student to focus more on the math problem and less on reading the words.

An example of repeated sentence math problems could look like this:

- Problem 1:
*I got 3 books. I got 2 more. How many books in all?* - Problem 2:
*I got 6 books. I got 1 more. How many books in all?* - Problem 3:
*I got 2 books. I got 8 more. How many books in all?*

The problem is simple and repetitive, yet still challenges students to identify the keywords that signal which type of problem it is (e.g., **more**,** in all**) and provides an opportunity to comprehend a math situation.

Look at these adorable Zoo Animal Word Problems featuring predictable sentences. Each of the 3 sets includes a different phrasing for the problem. This allows the young readers 6 opportunities to practice with one particular word problem before moving on to reading a new word problem.

### Decodable Sentences for Math Problems

Easily decodable CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant), such as *dog* or *bed* are great for use in word problems for early readers. Many young, emergent, and struggling readers are capable of decoding, or “sounding out,” these words.

Here is an example of word problem using decodable words: “A **cat** **got **5 **rats**. **It got** 5 more. How many **rats did** the **cat get**?” The bold words are all decodable and easy for emergent readers to sound out. The remaining five words would be sight words (*a, more, how, many, the*).

Sight word acquisition is a new skill for K-1, so minimal use in math word problems is best for that age group. Grades 2 and up should use sight words taught in previous grades in problems to ensure students have had ample opportunity to learn them through reading before being challenged to apply them in math.

### The Takeaway

A child’s reading level should not prevent them learn math. Pay attention to word choice and readability when selecting word problems for emergent and struggling readers to prevent unnecessary hurdles.

*Want to see more like this? Check out my shop for engaging teaching resources and sign up for my newsletter to have teaching tips and a freebie sent right to your inbox each month!*

## Leave a Reply