The Reading and Math Connection

Understanding the Connection

Reading literacy is the foundation of all learning. A student who reads confidently and comprehends fully is able to discover the worlds of science, math, literature, and history. Reading is key because it supports all other subjects, including math. But, math is important too. Math is used in science, music, art, computers and coding, and gym. The math and reading connection exists because both require an ability to read and comprehend.

Strong reading and comprehension skills are necessary to extract important pieces of information, dismiss that which is extraneous, and to draw conclusions. In math, drawing conclusions involves finding the solution.

Reading Literacy

Reading literacy is a skill that is a necessary foundational building block of future academic success. In fact, reading should have the strongest instructional focus within an educational community during the earliest years of elementary school.

Learning to Read in order to Read to Learn are concepts with which many are familiar. The practice of “Learning to Read” occurs during a child’s primary school education typically from kindergarten through 3rd grade.  The focus is primarily on decoding, memorizing basic words, phonemic awareness and phonics.

“Symbol imagery and concept imagery are two major building blocks of literacy. They are also crucial to math”, points out Justine Gussen, a K-5 Reading Specialist. “Symbol imagery is necessary for the retention of sight words, fluent reading and the ability to spell. But it is also important for automatic math fact recognition. Concept imagery is necessary for reading comprehension. It is critical to conceptualizing everything from addition to fractions to word problems”, she adds.1.

Once a level of fluency is achieved, the student begins the task of “Reading to Learn”. This phase originally began around fourth grade focusing on contextual information and comprehension. “Learning to Read” and “Reading to Learn” are now generally occurring throughout a student’s primary and secondary education. In fact, reading for information and comprehension can start as soon as a child begins to read or even when a parent starts reading to their toddler.


Math Literacy

Mathematics is a language all its own.  It uses words and symbols to construct a math sentence.  Therefore, math literacy requires mastery of its specific vocabulary and language in general. Because math requires the understanding of numbers and symbol sense, decoding is important. Reading and comprehending math text involves close reading which involves observation of facts, details, and clue words. Close reading in math is important to extract important pieces of information, dismiss that which is extraneous, and understand the question being asked (i.e. find the solution to the problem). Then, a student can translate the words into a solvable formula or equation using the mathematical language of symbols and expressions.

Math requires a certain competency in reading literacy to do well. Reading competency does not in and of itself translate into good arithmetic computational and problem solving skills. However, research has demonstrated that poor language and reading skills do correlate with poor math skills. 2.


In conclusion, reading literacy is important because it supports all subjects, including math. As a student progresses grade to grade, math becomes more abstract and complex. So, it is crucial that a student must be at least grade-level proficient in reading literacy to do his or her best in math as well as in all other subject areas.

1. Justine Gussen is the former Head Consultant at Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes, Darien, CT, with over seven years of experience. She is currently a Reading Specialist working with grades K-5 at a school in Fairfield County. Justine, also, has a private practice. For reading assistance or reading-related questions email her at

2. A Longitudinal Study of Mathematical Competencies in Children With Specific Mathematics Difficulties … and Reading Difficulties

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