Using Literacy to Teach Math

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

Let's face it - teaching math to little people can be tough.  Why?  Well, mostly because mathematical concepts are abstract and little brains aren't ready for processing the abstract.  Quite frankly, even bigger brains aren't always ready to process the abstract.  So as teachers we must find ways to make the abstract concrete.  Concrete abstract - now that's an oxymoron if I've ever heard one.  But that is exactly our challenge!

In fact, this challenge exists far beyond early elementary classrooms.  The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) tackled this connection for language arts and math and found that by helping students make connections between math and language arts we can help them build skills in both areas!

One way to help make abstract concepts concrete is to attach them to things that are already known. Literature is a great way of doing this.  Carol Lee and Anika Spratley from LD online found that "the standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) refer to mathematics as a language and a form of communication. These standards suggest using fictional literature that embodies mathematical ideas in the elementary school grades to help children make initial connections between mathematics and the real world."  Making connections to something already known is a key part of the learning process.  By using literature as an opening activity, your entire class now has a common experience on which to connect their learning.

Adrienne Sturgen said it beautifully in her article "Why Literacy Should be Included in an Effective Elementary Math Curriculum,"

"When merged, lessons incorporating both subjects spark interest. They are memorable and serve as a refreshing change of pace that involve children in innovative ways, thereby potentially enhancing learning as a result of increased engagement. Using literacy to present and review mathematical terminology and concepts has the added bonus of increasing the accessibility for verbal students (and teachers) who don’t consider themselves ‘mathematically-minded’. In these instances, literature can provide alternative explanations for abstract concepts while simultaneously offering context beyond a compartmentalized math class. Suddenly math can—and does—exist within the world in which we live, bringing greater meaning and higher incentive to the pursuit of math."

I {LOVE} that last sentence!  Take a minute and read it one more time - it's that good!

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

And while I primarily deal with little people and little people math concepts, I would do my students an injustice if I didn't look forward to what they would be expected to do in just a few short years.  Story problems are everywhere in math!  They require students to use key reading skills to solve math problems.  There's no such thing as "I'm good at reading but not math" or vice versa.  These 21st century students must be good at both! Connecting math to literacy now helps our students see the relationship to reading in math for the future.  Let's face it, whether its a state exam or the SAT, reading and math are highly integrated.  The more we as teachers can do to break down the wall between language class and math class the better.

And just in case you still aren't convinced, how about the ability to cover more with less time.  By incorporating literature into your math lessons, you can model good reading skills and math skills at the same time.  Show your students how good learners are always thinking when they are reading.  It's okay to ask math and number questions about a book.  It's also okay to make predictions and practice inferencing during a math lesson!  This article by Math Geek Mama did an excellent job of explaining some practical ways to use literacy skills to develop math skills.
Storybook Math The Kinderhearted ClassroomStorybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

Storybook Math

All this amazing information is what led to the creation of Storybook Math!  I teamed up with my teacher friend Michelle from Smitten With First to work on these math lessons that are directly tied to books!  Here's some examples from our subtraction unit!

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

Each unit will focus on one key math skill or concept.  We have scoured the shelves to find the best stories to help bring each math concept to life.  In each unit you will find:
  • practice activities that relate to 4 different storybooks
  • coordinating math center activities and printables
  • a culminating craftivity that incorporates language arts and math skills
  • differentiated response sheets and more!
Take a look at these fun and engaging activities for the concept of addition to 10.  This is just a sample of the activities provided for one of the four stories in this unit!

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom    Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

How to Use Storybook Math

In my classroom we start with a story.  I preview all the books to decide which I think is the best for introducing the math concept.  Based on my students and the class, this intro book could be different from year to year.  When it's time to begin, I jump right into reading.  I resist the urge to set the book up or pre-teach the math skill.  Instead, I've found that by jumping right in it leads to greater opportunities for the students to do the connecting later.  And personally, I believe that student made connections are stronger than teacher directed connections.

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

As we are reading, I make sure we stop and chat about math vocabulary and connections to past learning.  I also do lots of questioning to get the students thinking about the math concept without knowing that is what they are doing.  Mmmwwwahahaha - sneaky learning!  It's also a great way to practice those reading skills of predicting and connecting!

After reading the story we move into the discussion about the math concept.  By always connecting back to the story I can teach, knowing that my students have a common experience for their learning.  I always like to do lots of group practice as we are learning a skill.  A great way to do group practice is to do practice problems similar to the craftivity.  The students are always excited when they get to make their own math problem that is similar to what they just practiced.

Over the next few days we practice, practice, practice.  This is where all those centers and printables come into play.  Generally, we will complete the centers as a group.  This gives the students a chance to learn the activity and see what to do.  Then I release it into our center rotation for them to work on independently.  I have also used these activities in whole class learning time, small group instruction and even as independent work.

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom  Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

After a day or two I pull out the next book and we begin the routine again. The students love making the connections from the books to math and from one book to another!  Not only are my students more engaged I have seen them grasping hold of those abstract concepts like never before.

More About Storybook Math

You can find Storybook Math on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Here's a direct link to each unit that is currently available and the coordinating books!  I ordered all my books from Amazon because, well, you just can't beat the price and front door delivery. 😉

Storybook Math Unit 4 - Addition to Ten
Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom
Books for Unit 4:

Storybook Math Unit 5 - Subtraction to 10 Coming Soon!
Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom

Storybook Math The Kinderhearted Classroom




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