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Incorporate Language Into Math Instruction

Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this lesson idea from Math in Plain English: Literacy Strategies for the Mathematics Classroom by Amy Benjamin. The book provides many ways for math teachers to use language to increase their students’ ability to understand, retain and apply mathematics terms and concepts.

Creative writing, although done mostly in connection with language arts, is a form of writing that can strengthen learning in mathematics. Creative writing appropriate for mathematics can include poetry, stories and skits. Poetry, because it has a meter, already has a mathematical component. Here, we’ll talk about two forms of poetry: the haiku and the cinquain.

The Japanese-inspired haiku is a nonrhyming little wisp of language consisting of three lines, seventeen syllables, in the pattern of 5–7–5. Authentic haiku capture an image from nature, but in this case, we’ll capture a concept in mathematics. We can use a math term as our title and then describe it in our haiku, or we can include the math term within the haiku. We can use the math term literally or metaphorically.

Haiku that uses the math term as the title:

Polygons have sides
This goes around the edges:
The sum of the lengths

After division
It's the number left over
That doesn't fit in

A cinquain is a five-line, nonrhyming poem whose lines fall into this pattern:

Line 1:  two syllables (noun)
Line 2:  four syllables (two adjectives describing the noun)
Line 3:  six syllables (three verbs giving the actions of the noun)
Line 4:  eight syllables (a complete sentence)
Line 5:  two syllables (repetition of the noun, or a synonym)

An example of a math cinquain is:

Partial, portion
Splitting, breaking, sharing
They’re components of the whole thing

The possibilities for embedding mathematical words and concepts in creative writing are too numerous to mention, but here are a few more ideas that students can enjoy while reinforcing their knowledge of mathematics:

  • Mini-mysteries, where the solution is dependent on recognizing a mathematical falsehood;
  • Traditional stories and fairy tales, where a mathematics problem is inserted as part of the story;
  • Parodies of song lyrics, where math words and concepts replace some of the words;
  • Advice columns, where the advice sought is about mathematics; and,
  • Mixes and matches in which you present a list of nouns and prepositional phrases and ask students to combine them in a way that starts, finishes, or is in the middle of a story. But the story also has to have some kind of math problem in it. For example: in the car, a tuxedo, an all-you-can-eat buffet, a valuable gem, a treasure chest, behind the barn, a lost cat.


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