Setting the context for mathematical concepts by first introducing them within realistic literature that I know my students respond to.

by Shenise White

Grades K-2, Grades 3-5


One of the strategies that has been very effective with my students is using literature with a mathematics component to introduce new math concepts.

Many writers of realistic fiction provide math concepts that kids at the primary levels really respond to. These stories provide a realistic context that help students to see immediately how meaningful math is in their lives.

For example:

To introduce counting for example, I share the book, Tally O’Malley, by Stuart J. Murphy and Cynthia Jabar, with my students. This story is about a family on vacation that makes a game of tallying different things–the colors of cars they pass on the road, for example. My students love it because they care about the family and about who is going to win the tallying contests. The story provides a context for the reasons we use tallying and makes the concept come to life. After hearing the story, the kids are engaged, motivated and ready to learn.

To incorporate these kinds of books in my classroom:

–First, I call all of the students to the carpet and introduce the topic and present the book. Before I start reading, I ask the students for predictions about the book.

–Next, I start to read the book aloud and engage the students as we read. I ask questions and also have them write and draw related concepts on their white boards.

–Then, at the end of the read-aloud we move into an mathematical activity that makes sense to students because of what we’ve read.

With new more rigorous math standards we have to provide additional ways for students to access the material other than just learning the procedural steps. Integrating literature with math brings the material to life, engages students, and builds a comfort level to ease right into the learning.


What I did well…

After viewing my presentation, there were several things I felt went well. I maintained a consistent energy level during the presentation and I also maintained a positive demeanor. Allowing participants to share information about their math blocks and how they were structured was very effective at the onset of the presentation. It provided an opportunity for participants to dialogue with one another, and initially build interest in the topic of math read alouds. Modeling is always an important strategy to use with students, and I was glad that I took time to model an example of a read aloud I use with my students and how I use it with my students. Participants were able to begin thinking of how they could adapt the strategy their grade level and student population. It was helpful to have participants work in groups to plan a lesson using the provided template. There were rich group discussions and teachers could really experience the purpose in use math literature to teach concepts and address student misconceptions. Overall, portions of the presentation that allowed participants to engage with the material and dialogue with one another were the most effective parts.

What I would do more of, better, differently…

There is always room for improvement and I definitely observed areas for growth after reviewing the video. If sharing this practice again, I would allow participants to share in more detail how they could use the read alouds during their math block. I would spend less time introducing the strategy and have participants spend more time perusing the books and materials to see how they could use them. I would prepare a list of appropriate math read alouds (ahead of time) for elementary, middle, and high school teachers. I primarily focused on my experience with first graders and would like to be more inclusive of other grades by having more material available. 

In what ways do I still want to grow in this practice…

I still want to find math literature that address each of the standards addressed in our curriculum. For some concepts, there are a plethora of books while other topics have none. Pacing is still an issue at times. Some books are lengthy and if read in their entirety, they can consume precious minutes of the math block. Finding a balance of how much to read of particular books is still a challenge. I want to find ways to address my gifted population by incorporating math literature as independent tasks or projects. My goal is to have gifted students exposed to math

About Shenise White

Shenise White is a native of Greenville, South Carolina. She has 14 years of teaching experience. She currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia where s...

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