The Three Reads Protocol: Understanding vs. Solving

Written By: Nakoa Wiley, Professional Learning Specialist and Curriculum Designer, GA

With a rapid transition into virtual teaching and learning, teachers are facing challenges with finding instructional resources that employ the same rigor and critical thinking received from students in the traditional classroom setting. Since it seems that virtual teaching is the “new norm,” many believe it is in best practice that teachers focus on the mastery of previously taught standards vs. introducing new standards. With that being said, implementing performance tasks into virtual teaching and learning will continue to: (1) elicit critical thinking and authentic learning from students, (2) allow for more personalized teaching for each student (responsive teaching), and (3) allow for learning activities or assessments to be scaffolded for mastery. Performance tasks can be used as a part of daily instruction or for assessing skills taught.

The Three Reads Protocol is a stand-alone strategy that deepens a student’s understanding of the structure of rich tasks. It encompasses open-ended questioning which embodies the framework for all performance tasks. Unlike commonplace procedures such as CUBES or SOLVE, this instructional routine is evidence-based and sets the precedence for our students to “think like mathematicians”.

The Three Reads Protocol

The Three Reads Protocol is one way to do a close read of a complex math task. This strategy includes reading a math scenario three times with a different goal each time. The first read is to understand the context. The second read is to understand the mathematics. The third read is to elicit inquiry questions based on the scenario. The Three Read Protocol is designed to engage students in sense-making 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 the use of authentic, instead of overly simplified, text. This strategy also allows for natural differentiation within a class of diverse learners. (SFUSD Mathematics Department, June 2015,

What it Looks Like in the Virtual Learning Platform

  Teacher Behaviors Key Question Student Behaviors
  • Identifies appropriate
    problem stem
  • Anticipates linguistic and mathematical challenges/misconceptions*
  • Creates visuals to support understanding


1st Read
  • Shows visuals (using Powerpoint of Google Slides or through live teaching) *
  • Introduce the problem stem, share needed information, sketch/jot, give think time, have a whole class discussion (live teaching)*
  • Have students share their sketches and jots* (Google Classroom)
What is this situation about?
  • Chat with a partner
  • Listen to the “problem stem”
  • Chat with partners to paraphrase the problem stem
  •  Sketch/jot*
  • Say what they remember of the story
2nd Read
  • Shows problem stem (for example, live teaching or using a PowerPoint/Google Slides*
  • Leads class in read aloud of the problem stem *
  • Leads discussion of quantities and units
  • Capture student ideas for formative assessment and responsive teaching *
What are the quantities and units in the situation?
  • Read aloud with the class or with partners *
  • Discuss and interpret numbers/quantities they identify
3rd Read
  • Asks student to read with a specific goal *
  • Leads discussion of potential questions
  • Clarifies language as needed

What mathematical questions can we ask about the situation?

  • Read one more time with partner/s (through chat) *
  • Brainstorm with partners several questions that could be asked using the problem stem (through chat) *
  • Volunteer questions
Collaborative Groups
  • Assign specific questions for all groups to answer (differentiate)
  • Facilitate learning and monitor expectations.
  • Facilitate academic conversations and offer direct feedback ( via live teaching or Google Classroom)*
Based on the problem stem.
  •  Solve questions related to the problem stem
  • Work collaboratively with partners via chat in Google Classroom *
  • Solve questions related to the problem stem (you can make it into a team game using “Kahoot”)*
  • Work with partners via chat In Google Classroom*

Student behaviors can be modified for primary grade levels and based on student need. The Three Reads Protocol supports standards-based instruction and helps scaffold teaching and learning in any educational platform. This strategy will also help students develop constructive academic conversations around mathematical content.


Note 1: * Denotes changes to protocol to align to virtual teaching and learning.

Note 2: Google offers a variety of collaboration tools that may be used by students such as the chat and comment feature in Docs, Gmail, and Hangouts. Platforms such as Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime may also be used to promote communication as well as the chat feature in a school's LMS.