Elementary Math Pictures

How to Spark Engagement in Math With Pictures

It’s possible that you remember Picture Picture, the motion picture and slide projector that Fred Rogers used to demonstrate things like how crayons are made with visual aids when you were a kid watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Despite the fact that this visual routine worked well for the young audience, many teachers continue to use pictures to enhance their lessons with older students, as I do frequently with math lessons. Our students, like the children who enjoyed Picture Picture, can become enthused about mathematics through the use of pictures and images, and the use of pictures alters the perception of who is good at mathematics: In this way, we can demonstrate to students that mathematics is more than just algorithms and shortcuts; rather, it is about recognising patterns and applying what we know to what we see.

Using pictures, especially at a time when virtual lessons are becoming more prevalent in education, engages children on a profound level. The emphasis is no longer on who can calculate answers the fastest; rather, it is on who can demonstrate true understanding. We must assist our students in recognising mathematics in their daily lives.


In addition to word problems and counting being difficult, teachers have long used pictures to provide students with an alternative method of gaining access to numerical data. Use pictures of quantifiable objects to create easy entry points into the math you’re asking students to do to help them make sense of the math you’re asking them to do.

Please take a look at the photograph of an egg carton above. What do you think you’ve noticed? What is it that you are curious about?

Show the photo to the class and ask them what they notice and what they wonder about it. They might claim that it’s an egg carton and that some of the eggs aren’t there. “How would you count the eggs in the picture?” you should inquire next. Encourage them to explain how they are counting the eggs verbally. It is possible for one student to see five eggs at the top, four in the middle, and five at the bottom (adding five + four + five equals fourteen eggs). Another student might see the eggs as four columns of three eggs, with an additional two eggs on either side of the middle column of three. A third student might see this picture as containing a total of 18 eggs, with four eggs being absent. You can cover the strategies for addition, subtraction, and multiplication with this single illustration.

This strategy contributes to the creation of numerous entry points for everyone to participate. Counting the eggs will be a personal experience for each student, and you can use a variety of pictures to get a sense of how each student goes about counting the eggs.


The primary grades are as follows: Because the primary focus is on counting, addition, and subtraction, pictures that have missing pieces or blank spaces are the best choice. Look for pictures in which the objects are strewn about. In addition, the same images can be used for different grade levels. Using a picture that students have seen in a previous grade, challenge them to come up with as many different ways to find the answer as they possibly can. With each passing year, they will develop a stronger understanding of numbers and will find new ways to count the objects.

The focus in upper elementary is primarily on multiplication and division, so pictures with arrays would be appropriate. Always make an effort to broaden the scope of the conversation to include questions about division. For example, you could display a picture of 44 beans and five cups. To find out how many beans would fit into each cup and how many beans would be left over if they put an equal number of beans into each cup, pose the following question:

Fractions and decimals: Teaching fractions and decimals can be challenging. When teaching fractions, pictures of measuring tapes or measuring cups are useful to have on hand (and pictures with multiple components also work in order to ask about parts).

a collection of coins
Thanks to Kristen Acosta for her contribution.
Your students should be asked the following question: What are some strategies for counting these coins?
Decimals: Money is a common topic of conversation when it comes to decimals. To illustrate percentages and decimals, pictures that are centred on the counting of money will be very helpful.

Percentage: The concept of percent is closely associated with the act of shopping. What does it mean when you see a sign that says “40 percent off”? When you see signs that say “buy one, get one free,” do you really mean you’re getting something for nothing? Retail signs are an excellent tool for conveying the concept of percent.

Student interest in ratios and rates is significantly increased in middle school when they are required to compare different objects. Teaching rates to middle school students through the use of actual grocery store advertisements is a fun and engaging method. This illustrates how adults use interest rates to find the best deal when they are shopping.

We can find shapes, lines, and angles in our everyday lives, which is a great example of geometry. Students can gain an understanding of how we use math—and geometry—all of the time by looking at pictures with different shapes. Geometry is easily accessible through images, which can be used for everything from parking cars to building houses.

Finding images to use in your math lessons is less difficult than you might think. Here are a couple of pointers:

Look for pictures on math websites: Sites such as Number Talk Images and my own website can be used to find pictures of objects that will appeal to your students’ interests. Find the hashtags #HowMany or #UnitChat on Twitter, which educators use to share pictures on a regular basis. If you use a stock photo website, most elementary students will enjoy seeing pictures of doughnuts, cupcakes, or any other type of candy, especially if the pictures are of their favourite treats.
Choose a centrepiece that will elicit conversation, such as: The results of a Google image search for something like doughnuts will yield a variety of different arrangements—select one with a random pattern of holes. Begin by looking for your item on the website and then looking at the pictures for patterns.
Take photographs of your own: Use your camera to photograph objects at your local grocery store or countable items around the house such as bead, button, and coin clusters.
Regardless of where you obtain your photographs, students will be enthusiastic and eager to participate in discussions about the photographs—after all, mathematics can be found everywhere.