Math Reading

Reading and Writing in Math Class

“When exactly am I going to put this to use?” This is a question that you should be very comfortable answering if you teach mathematics. Students have a difficult time visualising when and where the mathematical concepts they are learning will actually be useful because the math curriculum in middle school and high school is becoming increasingly abstract.

Simply informing them that the information will be beneficial for their future academic career or for the subsequent math courses they will take is not sufficient, nor should it be. When this occurs, the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics,” which can be discovered through reading and writing, becomes the trump card that teachers keep up their sleeve.

Reading and writing are complex, fundamental, integrative learning skills, and they should be used to the full potential they offer in math class. Reading is a two-step process that is analogous to the learning of mathematics in that it requires first the transfer of encoded information to the reader, and then the reader must comprehend the information that was transferred to them. Writing, on the other hand, utilises both hemispheres of the brain in the process of learning; while one hemisphere is responsible for the generation of ideas, the other is responsible for the organisation of those ideas.

The slow pace of writing is conducive to student learning because it allows them to reason carefully to ensure that they are correct before they state their thoughts. Effective writing also helps students clarify and organise their thoughts. Writing has been shown to be particularly useful in the classroom setting of mathematics. For instance, it would appear that a student’s capability of explaining concepts in writing is related to their capability of comprehending and applying those concepts.

In addition, written explanations make it possible for the instructor to comprehend and evaluate the student’s line of reasoning in a way that the computational steps themselves might not be able to provide.


Although writing prompts for the elementary—and, to a lesser extent, for the middle school—math classroom have been available for some time, they typically centre on attitudes and dispositions, likes and dislikes, as well as thoughts, concerns, and feelings about math or math class. In addition, there are some that focus on likes and dislikes of math itself. Journaling, mathematical autobiographies, letters to the instructor, and other forms of freewriting are included in these activities. They require the students to write about a theory or a process that they are currently studying, or they focus on metacognitive skills such as effort, goals, expectations, and study habits, among other things.

Although these prompts can be modified for use with high school students, I’ve found that it’s much more helpful to use reading and writing to demonstrate how mathematics is inherent in every facet of daily life. Reading and writing are particularly helpful in developing a quantitative understanding of the world around us because they can be used to lead students to reflect on everyday experiences. This makes reading and writing particularly effective in developing a quantitative understanding of the world around us. One assignment that I have found to be successful is one in which students are tasked with producing a magazine that contains excerpts of articles about various real-world applications of mathematics.

The Applications of Mathematics
A publication written by high school students that explores the application of mathematics in the wider world.
PDF 14.72 MB
I’ve included an issue of the magazine, which is composed of summaries of published articles. In order to get students started, I keep an updated list of articles that highlight the ways math is present in various aspects of the real world. These topics range from the probability that a soccer team ends up in a particular World Cup group to gerrymandering, fractals in Jackson Pollock’s paintings, black holes, the fairness of social media, and invisibility cloaks, among other things.

I select articles from a wide variety of newspapers, journals, and magazines, including The Washington Post, The New York Times (especially the Upshot section), The Economist, New Scientist, Scientific American, and The Atlantic. In addition, I select articles from blogs, websites, podcasts, videos, and other online resources. My most valued and relied-upon source is the iPhone application called MathFeed, which is curated by the mathematician Francis Su and is available for free download from the Apple App Store. This app enables me to find the most important news and views about math in the media all in one location.

After selecting an article from the list I provide or from other sources of their choosing that has piqued their interest, the students read the article carefully, compose a summary of it, and then post it on the online magazine. (If they want to use an article that they have found, they are required to check with me first so that the magazine does not end up containing duplicates of the same content.) They are aware that it is required of them to have an accurate understanding of the article’s content, to thoroughly edit their summary, to offer a visual that will assist their readers in comprehending the material, and to cite their source.

I give them access to the draft of the magazine, and they also have to upload their article and take care of any technical issues that may arise.

For the purpose of grading, I devised a straightforward rubric that evaluates students based on their comprehension of the material, the clarity of their communication, their editing, their critical thinking, their initiative, and their creativity.

One of my most well-liked projects, this one has been a hit with the students, who are always amazed when they learn about the numerous uses of mathematics. They also take pleasure in the ability to select articles based on their particular areas of interest, and they value the fact that the final product, the magazine, can be easily distributed to family and friends, as well as kept in their very own electronic portfolios.

This is a valuable activity that encourages students who enjoy reading and writing more than the computational side of math and gives all a deeper understanding and stronger appreciation of the usefulness and effectiveness of mathematics.