So I’ve been informally experimenting with the effect of reading aloud in math class.

Many years ago, I noticed that when a student couldn’t get started on a task on their own, they’d raise their hand and claim “I don’t know what to do.” I would ask, “Well, what did the problem say?” The student would then answer, “I don’t know.” My next step would then be to read the problem aloud and ask “What do you think you’re supposed to do?” The student would respond to this question…and most often with the correct response.

I didn’t need to ask the students any questions related to the math at hand. They just needed to hear the problem aloud.

I started to pay attention to this back and forth that I would have with countless numbers of students. And then began to explore the question-what if they read aloud to themselves???

An eight grade honors level student came to find me because she couldn’t figure out a problem she had on an assignment. I said read the problem. She said “I already did.” I asked her to read it aloud to me. I could see the lightbulb go off when she finished and she asked “Am I supposed to _______?” And she was correct!

Two nights ago, my fourth grader that was accepted into the STEM program in our district, was working on an online assignment in the other room. He came out to my husband and I and asked for help because he was stuck. He sat down next to my husband and began reading the problem out loud to him. As soon as he finished, he said, “Oh, never mind! I know what to do.”

I’ve noticed that I will often put my fingers on my ears and read-aloud in a whisper if I’m trying to double check the words that I’ve written. It’s helpful to hear myself. How can we explore this more with students? How can we incorporate this in our classrooms?

I did a quick search attempting to find research on this topic. I noted this article about reading aloud for English language learners. But what was interesting was this:

I’m interested in researching this further and would definitely love to know if anyone has had similar experiences with their students.

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Absolutely! I have definitely noticed this to be true. It’s so validating to see that there’s research on it to support our experiences. Thank you for writing about this!

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This happens pretty regularly in my classes. I often ask a student with a question to read it to me and many times that is all it takes for him/her to figure it out. It’s great when it happens, because then I can reinforce the idea that the student already has the knowledge to solve the problem without my assistance, bolstering his/her confidence (hopefully). Thanks for writing about this topic.

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The “aloud” part is what caught my attention. Several years ago my 4th graders had kindergarten math buddies. I was reading the Children’s Mathematics (the CGI book) at the time and had turned my 4th graders into little teachers. They would take all kinds of problems from the CGI book modified for their K math buddies to puzzle over. The two main supports the 4th graders offered their K math buddies were 1) manipulatives and 2) reading the problem to them *aloud* as many times as they wanted. It was quite amazing to see how often merely reading the problem again allowed one of the K’s to successfully answer the question e.g. how to interpret the remainder for a 9 cookies shared among 2 people question.

Like every insight this seems obvious now, but it hadn’t clicked for me until reading your post. Thanks!

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My older students generally regard math and spoken language as separate worlds. Sometimes it’s extreme — when I asked a student if she could show me the “width” part of a rectangle and she pointed at numbers hoping one was right…. and no, she had *no idea* that the number really had anything to do with the picture.

Imagining this with younger students encourages me to keep working on it with mine…

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