Writing About Math

Writing about math greatly enhances mathematical reasoning and problem solving skills.  When students write in math class they expand their knowledge and better understand and retain math skills. Writing in math helps students apply math to different subjects and real life experiences. Evaluating student writing is a valuable way for the teacher to get a glimpse into a student’s mathematical thinking. Students should have a math journal where they can write about math every day. Here are several ways to write about math:

Write to Discover

Discovery writing  includes brainstorming, finding patterns, making a plan, taking notes or drawing representations of a math problem. Students will think and write  to discover the meaning to help them better understand and solve the problem. Discovery writing helps student look more deeply into a math problem rather than quickly trying to solve it. Here are some discovery writing questions:

  • What do you notice?
  • What is the most important information? Why?
  • How can you make sense of the problem?
  • What pattern do you see?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What procedure or tool will you use?

One of my favorite discovery writing activities is Which One Doesn’t Belong?  The teacher shows students four images, numbers, shapes, objects, etc and has the students write what they notice about the items and why one is different from the others. Students will come up with many different responses and it’s fun to share them with the class.

Write to Explain

In explanatory writing students might describe and explain their thoughts after completing a problem. Students might explain what they know about a math tool or topic. Students explain their thinking using details and examples. This type of writing helps students develop math language, solidify their thoughts and make connections. Here are some questions for explanatory writing:

  • What strategy did you use to solve the problem?
  • How do you know your answer is correct?
  • How did you use a mathematical tool?
  • Can you tell me what you know about this math tool?
  • Why did you solve the problem that way?
  • How is math used in a real life situation?

An engaging explanatory writing activity is to have students choose an informational book on an interesting topic. As they read the book they should look for numbers, graphs and other mathematical information. Students can then write about the topic using the math they found.


Write to Reflect

Reflection writing is when student think and write about what they are learning, questions they have, and how they feel about math. This is a highly effective way to help students self monitor their progress, express their feelings, and recognize and resolve things they might be confused about.

  • What did you learn today?
  • How do you feel about math?
  • What questions do you have about the math you did today?
  • How did you stretch your brain today?
  • In what ways have you grown in math?
  • How did making a mistake help you to learn?

It’s a good idea to have students write daily math reflections for just a few minutes at the end of math class in their math journals. Then they can go back and review their thoughts and progress.

Write to Create

In creative writing  students create their own math problems, stories, poems, songs, riddles, etc. Creative writing combines writing workshop, math and even art. Students enjoy writing math stories, poems or problems about their artwork.  One of my favorite creative writing activities is to have students choose an image from a magazine and write a math problem or story about the image.

Writing about math will greatly increase your students engagement and retention of math skills. If you would like to learn more practical math ideas and strategies, please register for Mary’s free Guided Math Webinar.