Writing in Math Classes

Math teachers sometimes ask me how they can incorporate literacy and/or writing in their classes. Since most mathematicians did not double major in English, I felt this would be a great opportunity to share how math teachers can include reading and writing activities in their instruction to help students learn how to solve complex math problems. So, here we go.

  1. To begin with, students often struggle with solving complex math problems because they do not know math vocabulary related to the equations they are trying to solve. Therefore, spending time helping students learn the vocabulary is the only way to help them begin to fully understand what they are being asked to do in the math problem. Various activities can be used to build vocabulary (Frayer model, spellingcity.com, wordynamo.com, Quizlet, flashcards, Jeopardy, etc.) Students can use the vocabulary to create sentences related to math or create a story using the vocabulary. The possibilities are endless. If students don’t understand the vocabulay, they will likely misread the math problem.
  1. Think of literacy and writing as an opportunity to have students explain various concepts related to specific topics. For example, if students are starting a new unit on functions, they can complete a two-minute writing activity requiring them to jot down everything they know about functions to assess their prior knowledge. I’m big on classroom talk so I would definitely have students verbally share their responses with their peers using a digital learning tool like Padlet since it incorporates technology, but also allows students to get their down before haphazardly speaking.
  1. Another great way to incorporate literacy into a math class is to provide students with solutions to a math problem and have them write out the required steps used to solve the equation. To reinforce the vocabulary, have students use their math vocabulary words they learned earlier in the lesson.
  1. As students become more skilled writers, they will be able to write longer paragraphs and essays related to the various math concepts being covered in class. A great way to include writing and 21st Century Skills is to have students create their own free blogs through sites like WordPress. This allows students to keep a running portfolio of their own work. They can write a response to quotes by famous mathematicians or create equations to solve real world problems. During one of my recent peer school visits, I observed students creating and using an equation to determine the time of death in a grade wide murder mystery. Talk about high student engagement!

As a lasting thought, always remember that writing and literacy can come in many forms. It can be short or long, but should evoke deep thought in your students. It should also require students to elaborate on various class topics to demonstrate a deep understanding of the content. Don’t be afraid to have students write on interdisciplinary topics that span across different content areas. This will help students make connections between different subject areas which is amazing to see. The idea is to get students thinking, analyzing, and putting their thoughts on paper. Happy Writing!

© 2017 Bryan A. Ruffin


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