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How Basic Math Principles Can Help Students Understand Grammar

Children learn languages by listening and speaking; the grammar rules come later. In the same way, they know how to solve math problems. First, they learn how to solve problems and then understand the logic and rules. In some cases, basic math principles can help students learn grammar. 

Students have different strengths and weaknesses, and other learning styles can use these strong points to shore up the weak. Both languages and mathematics follow a set of rules and patterns. Students often see the correlation between math and grammar when presented in a new or unique way. 

Basic Grammar Rules

Students may understand the basics of grammar but will often make the simplest of mistakes. The following are common grammar rules and how students can mess them up: 

  1. Subject-Verb Agreement. "John likes fishing." The verb must be in the correct form for the third person singular.
  2. Verb Tenses. Students often use auxiliary verbs, which have their own sets of rules. "Susan has never been to France."
  3. Pronouns. These can be mistaken for possessives.
  4. Modifiers, Adjectives, and Adverbs. The position of these words is essential. We wouldn't say, "The dress is pink," but rather, "The pink dress."
  5. Double Negatives. Students may often say, "I don't have nothing to do," which is incorrect. 

Basic Math Principles

Math rules are just as strict, if not more strict, than grammar rules. The following are basic math principles that students should be familiar with:

  1. Addition and subtraction
  2. Multiplication
  3. Division
  4. Algebra
  5. Calculus
  6. Geometry

Examples of Math Principles and Grammar Working Together

We can look at the rules of math and grammar as formulas. Correct word order is essential if we want a sentence to make sense. Like in a math problem, we have to use the right symbols and order. 

Proper Order in Equations and Sentences

Let's take a simple algebraic formula ax+by+cx+d=0. If you move these bits around, it probably won't be the same equation. The order in equations works with grammar, too. "Cabbage doesn't like Susan." Unless her neighbor's dog is called Cabbage, the word order changes the meaning completely.

Negatives and Positives

There are double negatives both in math and English. They change the equation or sentence from negative to positive, which isn't what you want. Example: 6 - (-3) = 6 + 3 = 9.

It's the same for this sentence, "He doesn't have time for nothing." Both negatives cancel each other out.

Run-On Equations and Run-On Sentences

Run-on sentences and run-on calculations can both be confusing. Look at some of Einstein's work and how he took up whole blackboards.

This sentence might feel similar to a long math problem, "Very few people can learn more than one thing at a time because their attention span is too short of taking in all the information, so we usually try to separate learning into little blocks that we can come to terms with."

Variables and Symbols

Symbols are the lifeblood of math; you can't even add or subtract without them. For example, 2 + 2 = 4 makes sense, but 2 2 4 has no signage, creating confusion for the student. Punctuation in grammar is the symbol of math. If you mess up and use the wrong one, or worse still, leave one out, it could spell disaster. For instance, the sentence, "I love reading, sleeping, eating children, and watching tv," can create serious problems. 

Tips For Helping Students

  • If you are a grammar teacher, talk to a math teacher for collaboration on projects or assignments
  • Find out the best math and grammar students and see if they can work together to lead lessons or study groups
  • Assign students homework that provides you with examples of how math and grammar interact

After following these steps, plan your class or set up a unique project with students allowing them to teach the subject and their relation to one another. If an additional lesson, such as an after-school study hall, the participating students and student teachers can receive extra credit points for their involvement. Or, if the project takes place in class, each student will need to participate and present their findings on how the two correlate. 

Wrapping Up

Basic math and grammar rules have many things in common. Always stress that order matters, and ensure that you integrate both math and grammar concepts into your curriculum. Your students will then succeed in both their English and arithmetic! Happy teaching!

Written by Cathy Bailot
Education World Contributor
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