Skip to main content

Reading and math: Can they work together?

MONDAY, JANUARY 26, 2015 10:58 AM

Although the Common Core State Standards separate math from English/language arts, the two subjects can actually go hand in hand. Many students have to solve word or story problems, so why not use stories to teach methods of completing equations? Literature has the potential to make math more exciting and easier to understand for students, which is why some math teachers have incorporated books into their lesson plans. Here's a look at how the practice benefits students and how some teachers implement it:

Benefits of blending
Educators who use literature to help teach math may come across a number of benefits. From helping students understand concepts to making class more fun, books could be just what struggling students need to get a boost in math class. Here are a few of the benefits of blending literature and math:

Increase interest: While some students are naturally good at numbers and enjoy working with them, others don't grasp figures as easily. Fortunately, books may ignite interest where students had none before. If the piece of literature has an engaging story and the teacher uses it effectively, students may see math in a new light. 

Connect to curriculum: Math doesn't exist in a vacuum - it's part of the same world that encompasses other topics. Using books to help students understand math concepts brings those topics together and shows students how the curriculum from which they learn intertwines subjects. Math and reading may be taught in different classes, but they are both important skills students must grasp before they graduate.

Create context: Students often wonder whether math will actually help them outside of the classroom. Wondering at the relevance of the topic occurs partly because students can't see math in its context - they see it suspended outside of regular use. By reading a story in which math is used outside of class, students can see that the subject may later come in use in their lives. 

Making it work
To get the benefits of blending math and reading, teachers need to have a plan. Any old book won't necessarily teach math, especially without creating a lesson around it. For that reason, educators must be discerning when choosing literature and devising their lessons. Here are a few tips for creating engaging, relevant and effective math lessons that use books:

Be selective: The books you choose should aid the work you're already doing in math class. For instance, randomly teaching a book on negative numbers won't help if you're working with fractions. The literature you use should match the math subject. 

Consider age: Just as the books you use should coincide with your curriculum, so too should they match your students' grade level. First graders should learn math through books that a first grader can understand. Students shouldn't have to struggle to read the book - if they do, they won't really be focusing on the math, which is the lesson you're teaching.

Read the story: Incorporating literature into math class is great because the method provides students with a story. For this reason, look for books that have an engaging tale. If the literary quality of the book is low, students may not get the benefits or be interested. Read books you're considering to see whether the story is one your students will enjoy. 

Make a plan: Once you've settled on high-quality, age-appropriate books for your class, you can start working them into your lesson plans. View the books and the curriculum to see where the two meet, and plan how you'll introduce the story during class. 

Math and literature may have separate Standards, but one can help students understand the other.