Literacy and Math Unite!
As far back as I can remember, literacy has been a love of mine.I have fond memories of curling up on my grandma’s lap, engaged in picture books, then later independently reading every book of The Babysitter’s Club and Boxcar Children series. Through my educational experiences, I have become a skilled and confident teacher in the areas of reading and writing. Math, on the other hand, has been more challenging and less enjoyable for me, and for some of my students.
Determined to be a more effective math teacher, I began to explore literacy strategies for math. The research I found regarding the benefits, including increased levels of student engagement, supported my decision to introduce mathematical concepts with popular children’s books.
Here are a few of the many books that captured my students’ attention (and hearts)during math instruction:
Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is? by Robert E. Wells
The author creatively compares the sizes of different things. Did you know it would take 20 giant jars filled with 100 whales each to equal the size of Mount Everest? Wells also demonstrates the relative sizes of the Earth, the sun, the Milky Way, and the universe in this interactive book. After reading and discussing this book, my students and I compared the average height of a student (5 feet) to the average length of a blue whale (100 feet). My students counted by fives to determine how many students would equal the length of a whale. This activity helped bring more meaning and enjoyment to skip counting and measuring.
Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni
This Caldecott honor book engaged my students with the lovely colors and illustrations on every page while demonstrating the concept of measurement. After reading this book aloud, students appeared excited as they searched the classroom with rulers for objects to measure. Students first had to estimate the length of each object, then measure the objects with rulers. Last, students determined the differences between their estimates and the measurements. Conversations were generated as students compared their estimates to the actual measurements.
The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns
With a triangle that morphs into different shapes, this is a fun book to introduce basic geometry. I loved the giggles this book produced among my students! After exploring this book, students chose a triangle (or triangles) from a variety of precut sizes, shapes, and colors. Students then drew pictures that incorporated the triangles and wrote sentences describing possible uses for their triangles, which they eagerly shared with classmates. The completed masterpieces included: a picture of two triangles used as a sandwich cut diagonally in half, a pyramid in the desert, the roof of a house, the beak of a bird, a playground swing set, a mountain, and a sliced pizza. What a great outlet for my student-artists while learning about geometry!
Other books my students and I enjoyed included: Six-Dinner Sid by Inga Moore to teach multiplication and The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins as a delicious way to learn division. The 512 Ants on Sullivan Street by Carol A. Losi and Night Noises by Mem Fox were amusing ways to teach the concepts of doubling and adding. Pigs will be Pigs by Amy Axelrod and Alexander Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst were both used as entertaining ways to learn about money.
My literature-based math instruction was not limited to titles with a math theme. I also incorporated other popular children’s books including Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, and The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. Using the content of the books as a basis, I wrote a variety of word problems involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Following the read-aloud, students were asked to solve word problems, enhancing their interest and problem-solving abilities. Implementing word problems based on books seemed to provide a more concrete way of understanding and solving otherwise abstract word problems.
Initially, my students were a little thrown off when they saw me pulling out picture books during math instruction. “Why are we reading in math class?” they would often ask. Soon, the first thing students said as they sat down for math class was, “Can we read a book?” Books became part of our regular math lessons. Not only did my students’ engagement and understanding of concepts improve with the integration of children’s literature, my own confidence and enthusiasm for teaching math also increased.
As children’s author Marilyn Burns noted, “Math and literature together? Why not!” Let us know how integrating literature into your next math lesson “adds up” for you and your students.