How to link math in English
At first, these two subjects may make for a peculiar alliance!
That we can integrate them within the classroom might not seem immediately obvious.
However, not only is it possible to forge meaningful and complementary links between these two subjects, but it is desirable too!
Linking writing and math in the classroom helps students in several ways. It:
- Consolidates student comprehension of both disciplines
- Helps students communicate their thinking
- Builds conceptual understanding
- Improves problem-solving abilities
- Increases technical vocabulary
- Provides context for abstract mathematical functions
- Makes writing relevant to the ‘real’ world
- Helps students remember mathematical processes.
In this article, we’ll explore many engaging ways to link writing and math in your lessons.
1. Create a Quiz
This can be an enjoyable way to end classwork on a math topic and give you a valuable opportunity to assess student understanding at the same time.
One way to organize this is to ask students to write a quiz and an answer key for the topic they have just covered. They then swap their quiz with a partner, and each student completes the other’s quiz. When finished, students mark each other’s answers.
Students will be revising their understanding of what they’ve been working on throughout the process, from compiling and answering the questions to marking and correcting the answers.
And anyway, who doesn’t love a good quiz!
2. “If You Want to Master Something, Teach It!”
“If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.”
There’s a lot of truth to the famous quotation above. As teachers, we often plan our lessons to include a plenary at the end that allows our students to reconstruct their learning. This plenary activity frequently takes the form of answering questions orally.
But, with a little tinkering, we can kill two birds with one proverbial stone – albeit a bird in the form of learning objectives.
After students have worked on a mathematical process, say, for example, using the grid method (lattice multiplication), ask them to explain the process in the form of written instruction outlining the procedure.
Not only does this help students consolidate their understanding of the method by forcing them to reconstruct their learning, but it also allows them to practice their instruction writing skills at the same time.
Instruction writing demands students break complex procedures down into exact, logical steps and express these steps in a straightforward, functional language. As the students progress through the year, their writing abilities will keep pace with the increasing sophistication of their mathematical skills.
3. Keep a Learning Log
Learning logs are another excellent way for students to respond in writing to their learning in math.
With a learning log, students respond to a prompt by writing in their logbooks for several minutes.
The work should be unedited. Learning logs aren’t meant to be polished, well-crafted literary masterpieces. Instead, they’re designed to encourage students to focus on their math and review what they learned.
The writing prompt usually takes the form of “What have we learned about x?” or something similar. Students can include definitions and examples to help illustrate their understanding of the concepts worked on.
As students get used to writing in their learning logs, they’ll begin to find formats that work for them. Sharing their logs is an excellent way for students to find new and effective ways of organizing their thoughts and ideas without needing to dictate how they structure their logs.
Learning logs are a fantastic means of encouraging your students to form their own connections and create their own examples and applications. They help students shift their learning from a focus on memorized facts to the construction of meaning.
4. Write An Account of a Mistake
How often have you diligently marked a student’s error only to see it repeated time and again in subsequent assignments?
One big reason for this is that while our students see our squiggles and explanations of their errors on their corrected work, they rarely engage with the corrections.
One way to ensure they learn from their mistakes is to use writing as a tool to encourage engagement with your corrections.
You won’t want to do this for every little error they make in a set of math problems. Instead, have students select one and write an explanation of why they got the question wrong and what they need to do in the future to correct it.
Writing about what mistakes they made and how they can avoid making the same mistakes in the future can be a valuable exercise helping students to get the most out of your marking and corrections.
5. Use the Think-Write-Share Strategy
When we ask a question in class, we often see the same few hands that shoot up in the air immediately, their attached owners eager to provide the answer.
In contrast, there are always a few reluctant hands that rarely reach skyward, sometimes out of shyness and at other times due to the student not yet having the answer.
The Think-Write-Share strategy helps in just such situations. It gives students space and time to process their thoughts and to work out an answer. To use this method, write a problem on the whiteboard and set the students the task of thinking about the answer before writing it down.
In this way, you ensure everyone has a chance to come up with an answer. Students could share their answers orally with the class, o
r you could read their written responses yourself. This will also provide you with a valuable opportunity to assess an individual student’s understanding of the topic.
6. Initiate Project-Based Learning
Project-based learning (PBL) is a great way to integrate math and writing, among other subjects and skills. PBL has become increasingly popular in recent years as it offers students opportunities to learn by engaging in real-world or simulated activities.
One method of getting PBL started in your classroom is to organize students into small groups of three or four. Assign each group a topic to make a presentation on. Some possible topics for students to explore could include titles like Different Methods of Division, Shapes and their Properties, or Strategies for Solving Word Problems.
To prepare for their presentations, each group will need to undertake research, writing, and rehearsal. While they get ready to explain what they’ve learned about their assigned topic, they’ll engage in a wide variety of possible writing activities, including note-taking, instruction writing, slide creation, scriptwriting, etc.
Another way to use PBL to link your students’ work in Math with their writing activities is to organize them into groups and provide each group with a real-life problem to solve that requires them to use their quantitative literacy skills.
For example, you might create a task where students design a fundraising campaign to build a school in an impoverished nation.
While they’ll require their mathematical know-how to calculate the costs involved in their project, they will also need their writing skills to complete funding applications and write information leaflets, letters, etc.
PBL requires students to engage in many forms of collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving. It also offers many authentic writing opportunities that can help students easily link their learning in math to other subjects.
7. Utilize the 3-minute Concept Write
The 3-minute Concept Write is a quick and easy way for students to reconstruct their learning and for you to get an opportunity to assess their understanding.
It can be done at the end of a lesson, at the end of a topic, or even to assess prior understanding when teaching a new learning objective. Indeed, it can be done anytime you’d like to get a quick overview of student comprehension.
To get the 3-minute Concept Write underway, give the students a math concept and instruct them to write everything they know about it in 3 minutes. They can use notes, sketches, diagrams, etc., anything that will help them express what they have learned quickly and easily.
At the end, you can collect the students’ work or have them present to the class. Either way, you’ll gain a quick insight into where their learning is at in regards to the assigned concept.
8. Integrate Math into Different Text Types
It’s common practice to integrate other areas of the curriculum into our writing lessons. For example, students might choose a historical subject to practice their recount writing skills or a topic from geography to focus on writing an explanatory text.
For some reason, though, it seems that math is all but ignored when it comes to our writing lessons. Despite this, the subject provides plenty of topics and concepts that would fuel writing activities for a wide range of text types.
Here are just a few examples:
Instruction writing happily lends itself to describing math processes using the How to format. Students will consolidate their understanding of both the math content they are writing about and the text type they are writing in.
Math stories are an excellent way for younger students to explore narrative writing and find ways to express what they know about the basic maths concepts they are getting to grips with in class. In the beginning, you can model how to use storytelling to understand math.
For example, a basic addition sum such as 2 + 3 = 5 can be retold as a simple story of two friends going to watch a basketball game where three other friends join them.
The complexity of the story structures can increase with the complexity of the mathematical concepts the students learn.
With just a little reflection, you’ll quickly find ways to integrate math into a wide range of text types.
9. Use the Right Writing Prompt
When students learn to write, they discover there are many reasons to write. We write to explain, to inform, and to entertain – to name three.
Likewise, in math, writing can be used for lots of different purposes. Let’s take a look at some of these in the form of writing prompts.
Writing to Access Prior Knowledge
Prompts like these allow students to reveal to the teacher what they already know about a topic.
- What do you know about x? [insert math topic]
- What is x about? [insert math topic]
Displaying Flexibility of Approach
There’s more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. These types of writing prompts encourage students to explore different ways to solve the same problem.
- Explain as many different ways to solve this problem as you can.
- What is the most efficient way to solve this problem and why?
- What is the least efficient way to solve this problem?
- How does the math you worked on today connect to your learning in other subjects?
- How does what you learned in math today relate to the ‘real world’?
To generate beneficial writing prompts for your students quickly, start with a clear objective and build out your writing prompt from there. Aim for your prompt to tease out the necessary information from your students.
Student responses to writing prompts shouldn’t always be extended pieces of writing. Often, short and quick answers are just as useful. Sometimes setting a time limit (say, 5 minutes) can help prevent these activity types
from turning into drudgery!
Don’t forget we have hundreds of free writing prompts here.
The organization of curricula into various specialized subject areas has lots of benefits, not least of which is that it enables us to set clear, focused learning objectives for our students.
That said, the dividing line between subjects is often arbitrary.
Subjects can and do bleed into one another. And, while the border between writing and math can seem one of the more clear-cut ones between subjects, the above activities show how work in one area can benefit student understanding in the other.
When asked the question “What is writing for?” many students will respond that it‘s a way of expressing what we think.
While this is true, what isn’t mentioned so often is that writing can also help us discover what we think. It can serve as a kind of thinking-out-loud exercise that reveals our thoughts and opinions on a given subject, math topics included.
More than this, though, writing helps our students structure their understanding and consolidate and deepen that understanding. For this, linking writing and math deserves a place in every student’s learning.