Long before the written word, significant cultural ideas passed from generation to generation through storytelling. It is an artform meant to be shared among community members. Whether you’re looking for ways to celebrate Math Storytelling Day on September 25, or simply want to bring math to life for your students, here are four great ways to incorporate the craft of storytelling into your math teaching.
There are many entertaining and educational math-related stories. Read one of these math-themed books with your students:
Books for Young Children
- Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3 by Bill Martin Jr., Michael Sampson, and Lois Ehlert
- Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
- Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
- Math-terpieces by Greg Paprocki
- The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang and Harry Briggs
- Sir Cumference series by Cindy Neuschwander and Wayne Geehan
- The Icky Bug Counting Book by Jerry Pallotta and Ralph Masiello
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Books for Tweens and Teens
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
- Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen
- The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer
- A Girl Named Digit by Annabel Monaghan
- An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
- Math Girls by Hiroshi Yuki
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
- Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra by Wendy Lichtman
Although storytelling began as an oral tradition, today we convey stories through writing. Writing requires students to formulate, organize, and clearly communicate ideas. These are all skills successful math students must also master. Challenge your students to combine their creative writing skills and math knowledge into a poem, fictional piece, song, or even an informational article that tells a math-themed story. Provide writing prompts, like the ones below, to help get ideas flowing:
- Who is/was the most influential mathematician and why?
- Once upon a time, there were five…
- Imagine that circles didn’t exist. Write about how the world would be different.
- You created a new shape! Draw a picture of your shape. Then, write a news article telling the world about your new shape.
- Write and perform a song or rap about a mathematical concept you are studying.
Just as pictures can enhance a story, math illustrations can help students visualize abstract math problems. Whether students are drawing basic shapes, sketching permutations, or working on geometric proofs, the ability to illustrate a mathematical concept is a must for all students. Here are some ways to help students combine their drawing and storytelling talents while reinforcing math skills:
- Graphic novels and comic books are hugely popular with students. Ask students to create a comic strip that tells a story about how to solve a given math problem. Humor should be encouraged!
- M.C. Escher’s artwork is fascinating and inherently mathematical. Have students study Escher’s artwork and see if they can identify any mathematical themes. Then, challenge them to create their own tessellations or other mathematically inspired masterpieces.
- Early elementary students need to be able to draw and recognize shapes. Begin by instructing students to draw circles, squares, triangles, or other shapes. Then, have them incorporate the shapes into a drawing that tells a story. Students can create superhero shapes, new worlds, or anything else they can imagine.
- Challenge students to create crazy pictures as aids for remembering math vocabulary or algorithms. For example, the classic alligator drawing that represents the greater than symbol. Memory devices that convey silly stories are easier to recall, so encourage students to think outside the box!
Movies are a modern form of storytelling. Listed below are some math-inspired movies. If showing movies in school, make sure to get any required permissions before screening.
Students can use this movie analysis worksheet to analyze the movie and its themes. Or, consider having your students write, film, and show their own short math films using a movie-making app.
Some great math-related movies include:
- Stand and Deliver (PG)
- Hidden Figures (PG)
- October Sky (PG)
- Moneyball (PG-13)
- The Martian (PG-13)
- A Beautiful Mind (PG-13)
- Sneakers (PG-13)
- The Theory of Everything (PG-13)
Remember that stories are meant to be shared! No matter how you incorporate storytelling into your math teaching, be sure that students are actively engaging and sharing their math stories with others.
This post was written by Lori Leclair, a freelance educational content developer. Using her classroom teaching experience coupled with her obsessive attention to detail, Lori crafts quality math and science materials for HelpTeaching.com. When not devising and assessing test questions, Lori can be found reading, camping with her family, or playing clawhammer banjo.