Using Children’s Literature to Teach Math

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has long promoted the collaboration of reading and mathematics and asserts that reading children’s literature involving mathematics needs more emphasis in the mathematics curriculum.

Mathematical ideas are embedded in all types of stories, poems, songs, rhymes, and other forms of literature. Carefully selected literature holds the potential to illuminate children’s understanding of, and ideas about, mathematics.

Reading a good story makes mathematics more meaningful through connections with students’ prior knowledge and with the world outside of school. Problems based on a good story make meaningful connections, increase the level of interest and motivations in students, promote critical thinking, and encourage communication and justification. Teachers and students should recognize that mathematics can be found everywhere – even in the stories that they read every day.

A variety of literature is publlished each year in which mathematics is the main focus of the story. These books have been written by authors whose primary intent is to teach a mathematical skill or concept through a picture or chapter book format. Some of these books are enjoyable and informative.

Another type of literature that teachers may select includes books in which understanding the mathematics is integral to understanding the story but is not the basis for the story. Mathematics does not drive the story; rather, it is embedded within the story. I tend to like these kinds of books best.

In a supportive classroom community in which lliterature and mathematics thrive, both teachers and students can begin to realize that mathematics is integral to daily living and to those connections that may extend into literature.

Want classroom activities to support math and literature? Check out:

Books You Can Count On: Linking Mathematics and Literature by Margaret Griffiths and Rachel Clyne

Connecting Math and Literature: Using Children’s Literature as a Sprinboard for Teaching Math Concepts (Grades 3-6) by Lisa Crooks and Sherri Rous

Exploring Mathematics Through Literature: Articles and Lessons for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 by Diane Thiessen (Editor)

Exploring Math with Books Kids Love (Grades 4-8) by Kathryn Kaczmarski

It’s the Story That Counts: Children’s Books for Mathematical Learning (K-8) by David J. Whitin and Sandra Wilde

Math and Literature (Grades K-8) any of the seven books put out by Marilyn Burns’ Math Solutions

Read Any Good Math Lately? Children’s Books for Mathematical Learning (K-6) by David J. Whitin and Sandra Wilde

Reading is a familiar activity for elementary teachers, and posing problems based on a story allows teachers to showcase their creativity.