Ideas for Using Writing in Math

Today’s guest blogger is Mrs. D, and she’s sharing some wonderful and creative ideas for incorporating more writing into math curriculum. It’s totally possible–but it requires thinking about math differently. 🙂

Writing in math may seem odd, but it's an important practice with the new standards being used today. This guest post shares creative and insightful ways to add writing to math class. These methods will really get your students thinking!
Writing across the curriculum has been a movement in education, and my school district is no exception. With the recent changes to Common Core and PARCC testing, I found myself at a loss for how I was going to get my students to write in math class. Math is just numbers and symbols, right? I had to convince myself otherwise, as the only writing I had ever experienced as a student in math class was a written response for how I solved a story problem.

I attended a conference where a presenter had quirky prompts for responses to literature. Several of them made me chuckle to myself, picturing student reactions when asked to write about such silly things. But then it hit me that I could try something similar in my math classes. I started by listing the verbs needed to spruce up my prompts, such as predict, organize, interview, rank and argue. Using this list of words, I worked on finding relations to math. At first all I could think of were prompts for geometry, and I was having a hard time creating prompts for other areas of math. Frustrated, I decided to walk away for a day and return to it fresh – that worked! I pulled out my math standards and started listing concepts and vocabulary my students have a hard time with. Then I would match up my math terms with the verb list.

Once I got going, my pencil couldn’t keep up with my thoughts. I started to combine my prompts with activities listed in my conference notes. To give you an idea of my process, here is a snapshot of the lists I was looking at:


Analyze Apply Argue against
Argue for Arrange Blend
Build Categorize Choose
Classify Combine Compare
Compose Connect Construct
Contrast Convert Create
Decide between Deduce Defend
Describe Design Develop
Devise Formulate Identify
Imagine Invent  List
Organize  Plan  Predict
Present  Prove  Rank
 Recommend  Retell  Simplify
Sort  Summarize  Suppose
 Why did  Write  
Math Terms

Algebraic expressions Angles Area
Decimals Dependent/independent Equations
Exponents Fractions Graphing
Inequalities Integers Perimeter
Probability Proportions Ratios
Statistics Surface area Volume
Note: This list changed for each grade level.  This is a generic idea of what was on most of my grade level lists.

Acrostic poem
Arguing for/against
Bumper sticker
Cartoon strip
Design a flyer
Explaining to pop culture person/group
Give advice
Compose a catchy jingle
News report
Planning experiments
Ranking real-world connection
Retelling a process from point of view
Six-word summary
Tell the life story
Three facts and a fib
Venn diagram
Would you rather

My goal in creating math prompts was to craft a fun, unusual way for students to demonstrate their knowledge of math vocabulary and to explain math processes. They are not prompts that will be on standardized tests. They do, however, make students use their creativity and critical thinking skills to answer.

Writing in math may seem odd, but it's an important practice with the new standards being used today. This guest post shares creative and insightful ways to add writing to math class. These methods will really get your students thinking!
Let me give additional explanation of a few items on my activity list.

  • Acrostic Poem – Students choose a word related to the given topic. Each line of the poem begins with a letter from the chosen word.
  • Comparing/Contrasting – Ask students to do these things individually. You will be amazed at how they have been trained to compare AND contrast all the time. The first time I asked my students to contrast percents and decimals, over half of my class told me things that were similar between them and not what was different.
  • Explaining to Pop Culture Person/Group – I love the creativity flowing from students when asked to explain something to Lady Gaga or LeBron James. They look at you strangely the first time you ask them to do this, but it’s amazing the things they come up with. This year my student’s favorite pop culture prompt has been to “Explain the difference between area and perimeter to Katniss Everdeen.” (She’s the main character in The Hunger Games.)
  • Compose a Catchy Jingle – This will appeal to your musical students, but I have also had students rap a jingle, too, instead of sing. You may need to play some popular jingles they would hear on the radio or TV to get them started on this.
  • Retelling a Process from Point of View – This is one of my personal favorites. Students are asked to retell a process or explain something from the point of view of a related object. For example, “Retell how to add fractions from the point of view of the denominator.” Right off the bat it tells you if students know their vocabulary and can put themselves in the shoes of the “basement number” and explain the process.
  • Six-Word Summary – This is exactly what it says: six words that summarize, which really makes students think. For example a six-word summary for solving equations could be “Get the variable all by itself,” or “Inverse operations move variable to isolation.” Try one – it’s tricky!
  • Three Facts and a Fib – Students write three truths and one lie about a topic. I did this just last week asking students to write three facts and a fib about triangles for homework. The next day in class they exchanged papers with a neighbor and had to identify the fib as an opening activity.
Writing in math may seem odd, but it's an important practice with the new standards being used today. This guest post shares creative and insightful ways to add writing to math class. These methods will really get your students thinking!
Check out more examples of prompts in my Writing in Math Class product in my TPT store that includes over 100 prompts and organizers for responses. This particular set of prompts is best for intermediate grades 6-8; however, looking at the preview will give you a good idea of examples you can apply to your own grade level.

Final Tip

Don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to create a list of prompts for the whole school year. Start off small. Create five prompts for the unit you are currently teaching. Use a verb and activity from the lists above to spruce up the prompt. Allow students to draw in math class! Designing a bumper sticker or creating a cartoon strip reaches your artistically motivated students while demonstrating knowledge of a concept or vocabulary. It will take students a few tries to really get creative on you. They are probably under the same clouded stigma I was–that you don’t write creatively in math class. You will be amazed at their responses and motivation to show you how creative they truly can be!

Mrs. D's ClassroomMrs. D comes from a family of educators. Her passion is special education, and she has spent most of her teaching career in grades 7-12. She loves co-teaching with her colleagues and coming up with creative activities for their students to learn. You can connect with her on Pinterest and Facebook.
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