Writing in the Math Classroom

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When I was in elementary school, math was without a doubt my favorite subject. It was all about numbers, it made total sense to me, it was concrete. It was either right or wrong, no in between, no gray areas. And the best part of all… there was NO WRITING!
Fast forward a few decades (I know I’m dating myself here) and now math and writing go hand in hand. Kids have to explain how they get their answers, critique the reasoning of others, justify their thinking, and write word problems. Most kids struggle with this, so making sure they practice these skills is extremely important. We should not wait until their next test to get kids writing during math. It should happen every day, every opportunity you get. The more they do it, the better they’ll get at it.
Here are some ways to incorporate writing into your math lessons.
1) Do Now’s: Most teachers use do now’s when kids get in in the morning. Why not have very open-ended math questions that will promote thinking and get kids writing? One of my favorites is Comparing and Contrasting.
The picture above shows a student comparing and contrasting 2 numbers. The answers for these types of questions really give you a clear idea as to how mathematically proficient your students are. Think about how many skills can be incorporated into this simple compare and contrast. 
Try comparing and contrasting operations such as multiplication and division, or multiplication and addition, etc. 
2) Creating Word Problems: This is also difficult for kids to do. They are used to solving word problems, but not so much creating their own. Creating word problems requires them to think critically and also requires them to write. 
Notice how for these types of questions, they need to think about the kinds of situations that would require one to either multiply or divide. To make it even more challenging, ask them to create word problems with multiple choice answer choices.
3) Critiquing the reasoning of others: If you follow the Common Core State Standards, you’ll recognize this as one of the standards for mathematical practice – M.P.3 “Construct arguments and critique the reasoning of others”. Children need to be able to respond to the argument of others and find flaws in their thinking. 
Here is an example of a journal prompt that reflects an error in a student’s thinking and asks you to identify such error and explain the reasoning behind it.
Math Journal Prompts
This question is taken from one of the PARCC online sample tests for grade 5. Notice how it asks again to identify the error in the student’s reasoning. Children need to be exposed to these types of questions frequently so they get used to answering them. They require written explanations.

You can get journal prompts for these types of questions here

3) Explaining their own thinking : Kids need to be able to verbalize how they solved a problem and write it down step by step. This can be done for most of the problems they do in class. Have students explain how they arrived at their answer.

How do you incorporate writing into your math lessons? Are your students writing every day in math? Leave me your ideas and comments below. I would love to hear from you.

Addys 🙂

Addys

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