Back to Blog6 Strategies for Teaching Literacy in Your Math Class

Try out these activities, and, before you know it, students will see that reading and writing in math class is fun!

I'm so excited about the benefits of teaching literacy in math classes that I've recently written about it not once but twice. Reading and writing in math class engages and empowers students. It also strengthens reasoning and critical thinking skills and gives you great insight into students’ lives. And all this helps students become better math learners.

Even with the many benefits of teaching literacy in math class, if you’re still not doing it, I get it. On top of the other million things you’re already doing, it might just feel like too much to start planning for in-class writing sessions. Or, with the pressures to get every student performing at grade level, you may feel like you don’t have five minutes to spare to talk about the language in a complicated word problem.

I feel you, but I'm also going to say that teaching literacy in your math class is worth it. Your students will build skills, confidence, and community. Need some strategies? Here are six fun ways to get your students reading, writing, and talking to one another.

1. Incorporate Reading and Writing Into Every Class

It’s fine to start small. When reading, chunk the text into manageable sections, especially with complex word problems. Writing assignments should be frequent and low-stakes. Write with your students, and encourage them to share what they’ve written. You can even share once in a while to show that you’re also committed to growing as a writer and a thinker.

2. Have Students Write Reflectively at the End of Each Week

You can decide on the prompt, and it can be as simple as, “write about two things you learned this week in math class,” or as complex as, “write about a time you used something you learned in math class in your daily life.” Not only will students build literacy skills but they’ll develop more ownership of their mathematical understanding and practice self-reflection, which will help them become more agile and independent learners.

3. Have Fun Rewriting Word Problems

Even if students don’t change the math in word problems, changing the details encourages them to write and personalize the problem, making it more relevant to their lives and more specific to their culture, interests, or identity. They’ll also have to engage deeply with the math in order to place the numbers in a different context.

4. Facilitate Discussion

Help students build oral literacy and critical thinking by having them discuss the method they used to solve a problem and any challenges they faced along the way. They’ll need to justify their approach and pose questions to each other, and this requires deep mathematical engagement. For a look at a teaching resource where discourse is built into every facet of the learning experience, check out MATHbook. With MATHbook, discussions aren’t just tacked on as an afterthought; they're the vehicles through which the learning happens!

5. Build Vocabulary

Any ELA teacher will tell you that building vocabulary through discussion is way more fun (and more effective) than taking vocab quizzes or memorizing lists of words. Plus, learning integrated vocab lets students practice using context to determine meaning, which is good for all students, but for ELL students in particular.

I remember encountering a word problem with my ninth-grade class of mostly ELL students that referred to a highway as “congested.” After discussing all possible meanings of the word, we had a good laugh picturing a coughing, sneezing highway and then moved on. My students not only solved the problem but they practiced analyzing definitions and choosing the most plausible.

6. Close Reading: It’s Not Just for Poems

You’ve probably heard your colleagues in ELA talk about “close reading” or “multiple read strategy.” Close reading involves reading a passage a few times and focusing on different details each time in order to obtain a deeper understanding of the text. Turns out, it’s good for math too!

The multiple read strategy in math class looks like this:

**First Read: Notice and Wonder**. Ask students what they noticed and what they’re still wondering.**Second Read: Organize and Mathematize.**Ask students which data is important and how it relates mathematically.**Third Read: Analyze and Interpret.**Ask students what conclusions can be drawn from the problem and what conclusions mean in the given context.

While it will take a little practice for students to get comfortable close reading math problems, it will eventually lead to them feeling less overwhelmed, particularly by long problems with a lot of information. Plus, learning to slow down and take in information deliberately and systematically will be super helpful in their other classes as well.

Resources Galore!

Are you ready to bring more reading, writing, and discussion into your math class? We’re here to help.

- Download our guide, “When Literacy and Mathematics Collide: Supporting Reading in Your Math Class,” for a sample of classroom activities that you can use to build literacy skills in your classroom.
- Watch our webinar, “Utilizing Literacy Strategies to Build Equitable Access in Math Class,” where I talk with other math educators about how to teach literacy alongside math!
- Check out our blended core math solution for middle school and high school. It includes MATHbook, which provides a literacy feature called Language Links, which are point-of-use suggestions for clarifying the meanings of academic and contextual terms.

Math class is a place where great things happen. Ideas are shared, misconceptions are righted, and confidence grows. Why not give your students even more ways to excel by including literacy in your teaching practice?

- Sarah Galasso
- Director of Instructional Design, Math (6-12)
- Carnegie Learning, Inc.
- sarahgmath

Sarah Galasso began her career teaching secondary mathematics in Anaheim, CA. Sarah’s passion for math education and supporting diverse learners led her to the University of CA, Irvine, where she worked to provide professional development for southern California school districts as they developed K–12 standards-aligned math curricula. She also partnered with Student Achievement Partners writing a series of blog posts on the Standards for Mathematical Practice for AchievetheCore.org. As the Director of Instructional Design, Math (6-12), Sarah applies her knowledge to help produce high quality instructional resources and tools to support student growth.

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