The CRA Approach

The Concrete – Representational – Abstract (CRA) approach is an evidence-based practice in mathematics for students with LDs. It is recommended particularly for the elementary grades and for mathematical concepts related to operations [i], although research continues to explore its applications to other grades and concepts.

CRA is a sequential three-level strategy promoting overall conceptual understanding, procedural accuracy, and fluency by employing multisensory instructional techniques when introducing the new concepts [ii]. Students begin by solving problems using concrete objects; once this stage is mastered, they progress to solving the same type of problem with representational drawings; finally, these supports can be removed and students are able to solve these problems abstractly [iii]. Each level builds on the concepts taught previously, and these explicit connections between lessons and stages are crucial in order for students to learn the targeted skill as well as comprehend the associated concepts [iv].

Students and teacher doing math at the whiteboard

The CRA approach combines effective components of both behaviourist (direct instruction) and constructivist (discovery-learning) practices. Aspects of CRA commonly found in direct instruction include demonstration, modeling, guided practice followed by independent practice, and immediate feedback. Discovery-learning elements incorporated in CRA include strategies involving representation to help students’ transition between conceptual knowledge and procedural knowledge [v].

Explicit Instruction

Each stage of the CRA approach should be taught using explicit instruction, another evidence-based practice for students with LDs. This instructional strategy consists of three phases: educator modelling, guided practice, and student independent practice.

For more information about explicit instruction, click here to access the article Explicit Instruction: A Teaching Strategy in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics for Students with Learning Disabilities.


[i] Bouck, Satsangi, & Park, 2018

[ii] Garforth & Siegel, 2014

[iii] Bouck, Satsangi, & Park, 2018

[iv] Garforth & Siegel, 2014

[v] Garforth & Siegel, 2014