When we mention reading and writing, English and Language Arts classes usually come to mind. However, literacy is a staple in all subject areas. It is necessary for students to be able to effectively communicate their understanding and mastery in all subjects. As a teacher, I was guilty of not always giving my students the opportunity to practice reading and writing in math class. Think about it: we may ask students questions we think they can solve, but find that they are at a standstill when it comes to answering. This is not always due to the students’ lack of understanding, but their inability to effectively communicate what they do know. By providing opportunities to practice communication through reading and writing, we are helping our students effectively show their understanding and make meaningful connections to their learning.
The important benefits of reading and writing in mathematics include understanding mathematical vocabulary, metacognition (thinking about thinking), and the ability to meaningfully communicate about mathematics. Matthew G. Caputo of Thurgood Marshall High School also discusses the benefits of reading in mathematics in his article Practices and Benefits of Reading in the Mathematics Curriculum.
Now that you know the benefits of literacy in math, how can you incorporate it in your math class? Here are some activities to promote reading and writing in the classroom:
- Word problems - Have students write their answers to word problems in complete sentences. Let students know that if the problem is given in words, the answer should also be given in words.
- Constructed-response problems - Provide problems that require students to explain their solutions. You can create problems like this by simply adding “Explain” or “Justify your answer” to any problem.
- Cross-curricular projects/teaching – Collaborate with teachers from other content areas to create projects that include related topics from your respective areas. You can even align your topics to teach related topics during the same time period. For example, combine a biology unit on genetics and Punnett squares with a probability unit in math.
- Reflection – Give students the opportunity to reflect on their learning, such as this activity from Knowre.
Helping your students bring reading and writing into the math classroom will help with providing a well-rounded education. So often, each school subject is treated as though it is independent from all other topics. It’s important to cross the artificial barriers between math and language. You’re even doing it right now by reading a blog post about math!
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