Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2009

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Speech and Hearing Science

First Advisor

Tomblin, J. B.

First Committee Member

Alibali, Martha W.

Second Committee Member

Cook, Susan W.

Third Committee Member

Hurtig, Richard R.

Fourth Committee Member

McGregor, Karla K.

Fifth Committee Member

Owen, Amanda J.


Purpose: This study examined the relationship between arithmetic word problem solving skill in first graders and 1) their oral language skill, 2) their nonverbal understanding of mathematical sets, and 3) rewording and gesture scaffolds designed to help the children access both the linguistic and the nonverbal content of Compare 6 word problems.

Method: Two groups of first graders (15 with good oral language skill and 15 with low oral language skill) solved a matched set of verbal and nonverbal arithmetic problems, followed by three types of Compare word problems. Twenty first graders with low oral language skill (9 with low normal language (LN) and 11 with a diagnosis of language impairment (LI)) then solved orally-presented Compare 6 word problems under 4 scaffold conditions: 1) traditional wording, 2) traditional wording + gesture, 3) rewording, and 4) rewording + gesture.

Results: Children with low oral language skill had greater difficulty solving orally-presented arithmetic word problems than their peers with good language skill, but performed comparably on a nonverbal arithmetic task. Using proportion of problems solved correctly, rewording Compare 6 word problems was facilitative for the LN group but not for the LI group. Changing the problem wording from a Compare 6 to a Compare 3, by using `more than' instead of `fewer than' and by eliminating pronoun anaphora, resulted in comparable performance to rewording that also included a rationale, optional verbs and placing the question first. The gesture scaffold was marginally significant for both groups.

Conclusions: The LI group did not benefit from implicitly-presented rewording or gesture scaffolds; the LN group did benefit from the rewording scaffold. The gesture scaffold was marginally facilitative despite the finding that children with low oral language skill were able to access nonverbal information in a nonverbal arithmetic task. Empirical and anecdotal evidence suggested that, for a number of these children, rewording and gesture scaffolds altered their mental model of the word problem structure. This altered representation resulted in the use of different solution strategies. The new strategies, however, were not always correct. Implications for classroom intervention and suggestions for future research are discussed.


arithmetic word problems, gesture, language impairment, rewording, scaffold


xi, 133 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 126-133).


Copyright 2009 Vicki Marie Samelson