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Help Your Students Write About Math

Writing can be tough for many kids. Writing about math can be even more difficult. Whether you’re a writing teacher or not, there are 4 easy ways to help your students write about math. None of them will leave you pulling your hair out. Trust me.

#1 – Show them how it’s done

People learn though imitation. Therefore, one of the easiest and most effective ways to help your students is to show them how it’s done.

Students don’t know what’s going on in our heads. In my case, that’s a really good thing! 👀 As I model my own writing, I can effectively demonstrate my own thought processes for the students. This allows my students to imitate my thought processes when it’s their turn to write.

math vocabulary word wall bulletin board

#2 – Words, words, words

In order to be competent writers, students need a strong writing vocabulary. Math is a foreign language for our students. Until they become fluent, they need a word bank to support them. I prefer a math word wall, but math journals and dictionaries also work.

What about spelling and mechanics? Some students get hung up on spelling and grammar every time we write. Decide where you stand before asking your students to write. I care more about concepts than I do grammatical rules. However, I do expect my students to at least try. They should at least be able to start each sentence with a capital letter and use ending punctuation.

#3 – Strength in numbers

Writing can be scary (at first). Having a partner can reduce anxiety. Once I have modeled my own writing process, I allow students to complete writing assignments together. This strategy is to help my students become more comfortable with writing. This is not a technique I use for very long because I want to my students to become independent writers.

#4 – Talk it out

One of my all time favorite strategies in my classroom is turn and talk. This strategy is great for ELLs and gives all struggling students a gentle nudge in the right direction. Just giving your students a couple of minutes to discuss a topic first, makes a world of difference. There are several benefits to using this strategy before writing. Students will have the opportunity to:

  • develop an idea orally
  • use math language
  • think about what they know
  • develop confidence

What do we write about?

I give my math students writing prompts. Even though it is easy to have students take out a sheet of notebook paper and start writing, I typically give them half-sheets of paper with the prompt already on them. I prefer the half-sheet writing pages because they are less intimidating than a full sheet of paper. Reluctant writers really appreciate this. I don’t have to nag my students to get started writing. My students quickly realize that it doesn’t take much to fill up a half-sheet of paper. My more prolific writers can continue their writing on the back of the page if they need to.

student examples of procedural  writing prompts used in math

Procedural Writing

We typically have two types of writing assignments – procedural and creating our own word problems. During each unit, I always start with procedural writing prompts. These types of prompts are great because they get students to really think about how they solve problems. This helps my students feel more confident in their mathematical abilities.

writing samples of student created word problems

Creating Word Problems

Once my students are confident in their abilities to solve certain types of problems, we begin creating our own word problems. This causes students to look closely at how math questions are asked so they can imitate the style. This is invaluable because it leads to better problem solving skills.

Using Your Own Writing Prompts

You can create your own writing prompts by simply giving your students a problem to solve from your math textbook. After they solve the problem, students can either explain the process they used for solving the problem or they can create a word problem to match the problem. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. I would highly recommend using only half-sheets of paper. Not only will you be saving paper, but half-sheets are less overwhelming for reluctant writers. If you want to save time, you can use prompts that have already been created for you. You can find some in my TpT store.

Writing about math doesn’t have to be a challenge for you or your students. Start small and build from there. You can easily help your students write about math and become better problem solvers in the process.

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