Integrating Literature into Mathematics

Von Drasek, Lisa (2006). Teaching with Children's books: the "wow" 
      factor. Teaching Pre K-8, 36,  Retrieved August 24, 2006, from 

Von Drasek's article details what to look for in children's literature when 
integrating it with mathematics lessons. She says first and foremost, 
teachers should look for books that are mathematically accurate but that
also provide for exploration and the potential to gain deeper mathematical
understanding. She believes an engaging story line, good diction, and a 
feeling of curiosity about the world are also position aspects in children's 
literature that will be used in math. Especially pertinent to my classroom 
assignment in a kindergarten class, Von Drasek encourages the use of 
picture books with small children that visually display math concepts like
shape and patterns. Finally, she says all books that teachers incorporate into
their lessons in any subject should have a certain "wow" factor. The "wow" factor
inspires new ideas and innovative thought in the children and adds to their
existing knowledge. Finally, Von Drasek closes her article with a list of potential
math literature resources such as her own online math literature library. 
Spann, M. (1992). Linking Literature and Math. Instructor, 101(8), 54.

In the beginning of the article. the author is talking with a kindergarten teacher, Ann Carlyle, who bases many math activities off literature "because unlike traditional math instruction, literature speak to the hear of the child".  The author then interviews Marilyn Burns who believes that, especially with younger children, math can come from books other than the obvious counting books.  Young children not only need to learn their numbers and shapes but also relationships, ordering, patterns and how to recognize problems and come up with solutions.  Burns says to read books the children like and then "keep you eyes peeled for mathematical connections" instead of trying to find books to fit the math.  Carlyle gives a couple of examples of books she reads to her class and then integrates with math, like asking her class how many things the hungry caterpillar ate in all (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle).  At the end of the article, there is a list of 6 books to use with a class and 2 books for teachers to get ideas.

Strutchens, M. E.  (2002).  Multicultural Literature as a Context for 
Problem Solving: 	Children and Parents Learning Together.  
Teaching Children Mathematics, 8(8), 	448-455. 

	Strutchens’ (2002) article, “Multicultural Literature as a 
Context for Problem Solving: Children and Parents Learning Together,” 
highlights an innovative 6-week program in the Baltimore public school 
system.  This program was sparked from the mathematics 
communities’ open consideration of cultural societies and how they 
contribute to mathematics.  A key component is the use of multicultural 
literature, which encourages students and other participants to 
use “mathematics as a tool to examine their cultural and social 
environments, traditions, and artifacts” (2002).   Most of the Baltimore 
public schools have a predominately large African American student 
population, over half of the students receive free or reduced lunches, 
and less than 1% are classified as having limited English proficiency.  
The program was designed to engage parents in the mathematical 
learning process.  Families and children came to solve math problems 
with multicultural literature once a week, for 90 minutes that was 
conducted in 3 sessions.  It contained a read-aloud portion and a 
problem solving portion.  The books that were chosen represented a 
wide variety of ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds that were 
appropriate for multiple grade levels.  The program is a success story 
that was able to connect parents and students, multicultural literature, 
and an overall learning process that extends mathematics beyond the 
classroom.  Strutchens’ (2002) article offers many children’s 
multicultural books and links mathematical concepts for resources!
Jenner, D. M. (2002). Experiencing and understanding mathematics in the midst of a  

     story. Teaching Children Mathematics, 9(3), 167-171.

     In this article, Donna Jenner discusses her personal beliefs regarding the success guaranteed by integrating literature into the mathematics classroom. Jenner emphasized that literature should not be used merely as a jumping off point for a mathematics unit or lesson, it should also be used as an integral part of the math lesson or unit as a whole. In this article, Jenner described her personal experience of teaching her class about geometry through the use of the book Selina and the Bear Paw Quilt by Barbara Smucker. I found this example of an actual math lesson that uses literature to be very helpful to me as I read the article because it showed me a real life scenario where the students’ reactions to the lesson were given. I also found this article helpful because it has made me aware of new techniques that I can use for tying children’s literature into my own lessons.


Meel, David E., & Gyurko, Deborah, & Gaspar, Michelle.  (2006).  A little-used art 
       of teaching: the case of storytelling.  Mathematics Teacher, 100 (8), 64-68. 

        This article begins by mentioning how most students would probably agree that 
math teachers are not very creative.  The authors suggest storytelling as a way to liven 
up the classroom by introducing students to new concepts by working through solutions 
that they may not even be aware that they are exploring.  Ideas for incorporating 
storytelling are stick figure, illustrations, pictures from magazines and books, costumes, 
voices, dialect, dialogue, sound effects, and props.  These are all ways to bring in 
literature aspects to a math lesson.  The authors warn to be conscious of students’ 
backgrounds, that some may not have knowledge of certain genres.  The article is 
geared more toward high school, but would definitely work for elementary students, 
         Examples provided in the article were “Rescuing Princess X:  Sir Mathalot against 
the radical castle.”  In order to rescue her, he had to make an equation and go through 
the steps of solving the problem, where variables connected to the story like “in a radical 
castle k miles away,” “protected by a guards,” “Princess x surrounded by n 
handmaidens,” and “divide and conquer,” etc.  Another example was adapted from a 
popular fairy tale.  In the “Three Billy Goats Trig,” steps are taken to explore the 
equation a f (bx + c) = d.  The article offered 7 varieties of questions to help explore that 
function, such as “What is the general type of equation being asked by the troll?” 
or “What are different ways the 1st goat could have solved the equation sin x = 0?”  
            After the class has done a story or two, students can be asked to tell why the 
techniques worked for these types of problems.  The goal is to present a different entry 
point for class discussion.  The stories can be silly, original, or classics, but they should 
be enjoyable to all involved so long as they have the appropriate mathematical 
Whitin, David J (1992). Explore Mathematics through Children’s Literature. School Library 
     Journal, 38 (8). Retrieved August 29, 2006, from http://0-

     This article discusses the importance of children being able to solve problems, not 
only as an isolated problem, but as well as, a problem given in story form. Whitin 
discusses how children's literature can help students learn the value of mathematics, help 
to build confidence in mathematic abilities, and encourages students to be mathematical 
problem solvers. Another topic Whitin discusses is how children's books explore 
differnent mathematical techniques such as, measurement, mulitplication, estimation, 
and subtraction. He gives examples of books teachers have used in their classrooms for 
each technique. Whitin discusses these books, what works in the classroom, as well as, 
some student reactions. Overall, this article was a good source in discovering how 
literature can be involved in the teaching of mathematics.

McDonald, J. (1999). Graphs and prediction: helping children connect mathematics and

     literature. Reading Teacher, 53(1), 25-29.

     This is a wonderful article describing the ways that literature can be used to enhance a student's knowledge base in math while also improving reading and vocabulary skills.  By using a book called the Emperor Penguin's New Clothes by Janet Perlman an elementary school class learned the strategies and skills of using graphs.  The teacher had the class create a bar graph on their predictions for the conclusion to the story and this was used to learn about math.  Through questions and predictions, math terms in themselves as well, the students learned how to design circle and bar graphs, but most importantly they learned how to interpret and understand the information they were representing.  Literature was used by this class as a means of introducing a math topic that may have otherwise been challenging for many students to comprehend.  The great part about it is that once they have established this basis of graph knowledge it can then be used to learn percents as described within the article.  This selection also includes a list of popular books that can be used to introduce math topics to your students.


Cohen, L. (1999). The integration of whole language and mathematical concepts. (ERIC         Document Reproduction Service No. ED431527)

     This research report investigates using a whole language approach in teaching mathematical concepts. The report shows how incorporating literature and writing in the teaching of mathematics allows students to see mathematical ideas in more meaningful contexts. Literature can be used to spark a students’ interest in a math lesson, to associate mathematical concepts to events depicted in the stories read and to apply them to real life situations, and also to provide teachers with opportunities to use classroom manipulatives to model concepts presented in the literature. As part of her research, Cohen (1999) developed lessons integrating literature and mathematics to be used in her Kindergarten classroom. For three months, her class served as the experimental group, using integrated literature and mathematics lessons, while another Kindergarten classroom, using the traditional approach to teaching mathematics, served as the control group. Cohen concluded that while students in both groups learned the mathematical concepts presented, the students in the experimental group (the integrated approach) were more highly motivated, learned more language and mathematics vocabulary, and were better equipped to communicate mathematical concepts and processes.

     I agree with the information presented in this research report. I feel that using literature while teaching mathematical concepts provides students with the opportunity to make meaningful connections. It also allows students to actually see how mathematics appears in real world situations. Cohen (1999) discussed using the picture book The Doorbell Rang to connect the mathematical concept of division to the real world context of sharing. I feel that this is a prime example of how literature can complement the teaching of mathematical concepts. I am a strong advocate for integration because I feel that it provides the most efficient way for teachers to meet all of the curriculum objectives and because it makes student learning real and applicable. I truly feel that literature and mathematics can mesh nicely to provide meaningful instruction for students.


Harris, J. (1997). Problem solving with Franklin the Turtle. Teaching Children
     Mathematics, 4
(1). Retrieved August 29, 2006, from;contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=EAIM&docId=A20202544&source=gale&srcprod=EAIM&userGroupName=ashv45734&version=1.0

(simplified link)


The researcher introduced a series of books into her classroom to teach social skills and build a close-knit community among the students.  In each book in the series, Franklin the Turtle encounters a problem similar to the problems that students encounter in their everyday lives (e.g., whether to cheat, how to deal with fear, how to keep a room clean).  The teacher read the story to the class, stopped it just before Franklin and his friends created a solution to the problem, and divided the children into small groups to brainstorm their own solutions to the problem and then report their best suggestions to the whole class.

Because all solutions to the problem were welcomed and considered, students learned to think creatively about problems; because the process was collaborative, students learned that problems could be solved as part of a group.  Without further instruction from the teacher, the students began to apply these lessons to their math studies:  students came up with nontraditional algorithms to solve problems, shared their ideas with one another, and built on the best ideas of other students to create efficient and elegant solutions.  The combination of trust and creativity encouraged by the Franklin books dramatically improved students’ ability to think about math.



Goral, M., & Gnadinger, C. (2006). Using Storytelling to teach mathematics concepts.

     Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom, 11(1), 4-8. Retrieved Monday, August 28,

     2006 from the Academic Search Premier database.



This article discussed not only HOW to use literature (and in the case, storytelling) in a classroom, but also WHY teachers should use literature in the classroom.  Goral and Gnadinger (2006) referenced several researchers about the question why.  They chose storytelling as their literature basis because it can be more meaningful to children.  Storytelling is often far more personal than just reading a piece of literature individually.  Communication is more than just talking to one another, it is an “art,” and children need to learn other ways to communicate to do so effectively.  Storytelling involves using the imagination to create images (which is a great tool for mathematics- imagery) and as cited in this article Steiner (1997) suggests that young children use their imagination more often than not and that teachers should use this to their advantage by teaching them with images. Children will get much more out of lessons that way.

Ezell, Michelle F.  (1997).  Integrating Literature into Mathematics Instruction: Literature 
Review.    Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education, 1-24.  

Michelle Ezell points out in her article that with changing times, the ways in which math is 
taught needs to be changing as well.  She discusses in her article that children today 
know their multiplication tables, but when those multiplication problems are applied to 
real life situations through story problems, the child can not answer the question.  These 
children lack the problem solving and critical thinking skills required to be a part of 
today’s world.  The article also points out that literature is the most powerful vehicle for 
children meeting new goals within mathematics.  She says that both Mathematics and 
Literature use classification and problem solving, look at relationships and patterns, and 
that they are strongly linked.  That is why she feels that integrating Literature into 
Mathematics is important.  The two subjects support each other.  She has devised a plan 
to help integrate Literature (and other subjects) into Mathematics: (1) help the teachers 
make math lesson plans that integrate literature and that deal with higher level thinking; 
(2) pick textbooks that do more than drill and practice; (3) build new assessment tools; 
and finally, (4) administrators and teachers need to work together to make this happen.  

Pierpoint, K. (2006). Greg Tang: Making Math Count. Norwalk, CT: Teaching K-8  Magazine.  (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ729676)

Pierpoint introduces Greg Tang, economics major and children's author who, with the influence of his own children, decided to compose literature that encompassed mathematics in order to make it easier to understand.  According to Tang, all children can be good at math and that through children's literature, math begins making sense.  He also notes that the key to math is to have fun and instead of teaching kids to count w/ their fingers (which according to Tang teaches kids merely how to count fingers not numbers) use every day objects such as cooking ingredients, pairs of socks, sets of geese, etc.  Most of Tang's books involve counting, pairing, problem solving and critical thinking that teachers can use to integrate math concepts through literature or vice a versa.  While doing a math lesson on counting or pairing, the teacher could pull out Tang's book "The Grapes of Math" and have students either read along or listen.  Some of Tang's other works include "Math Potatoes" and other poem and math related works.  He publishes every other year with books that tie math into children's literature.      

Cohen, L., & McNamee. (1999). The integration of whole language 
and mathematical Concepts. (Report No. PS 027637). East              
Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. (ERIC 
Document Reproduction Service No.ED431527)

This article argues that whole language skills, particularly those 
pertaining to literature reading and writing, can improve mathematical 
skills for children.  The author argues that literature helps children 
relate math to their lives and increases motivation.  She suggests 
several books: The Doorbell Rang and Eating Fractions for the teaching 
of fractions and  A Grain of Rice for problem solving.  The author 
teaches kindergarten and conducted a mini-research project with 
another kindergarten teacher to see if literature helped her teach math 
more effectively.  She found that the class that used literature 
produced more interested students, although both could effectively use 
the skills taught.  The best part about this article was the reading 
suggestions, and the worst was the many grammatical errors.

Marroquin, C., & Young, E.  (2006).  Posing problems from children's literature.

         Teaching Children Mathematics, 12(7), 362-366.

     This article began by explaining the need expressed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) for the incorporation of children's literature into the development of math lessons and problems.  NCTM states that in doing this, the math problems will promote higher levels of critical reasoning and problem solviong from the students.  The article continues to describe a four month professional development training, based upon the integration of math and literature, that the two authors of this article attended.  Three lessons created through the training are shared to reveal how children's books can be used to explore math topics such as geometry, measurement,venn diagrams, charts, capacity measurement, and number sense.  Having specific, real classroom stories about making this connection really helps to illustrate how this can be implemented in the classroom.  In addtition to this, the article also contains a lot of valuable resources in an extensive list of books that can help teachers in creating the link between math and literature for their students.


     In this article, the author discusses the benefits of integrating reading with mathematics concepts and vocabulary to strengthen children's comprehension of both subjects.  The author presents an example of teaching mathematics with the childrens book Benny's Pennies.  It is suggested that for the integration to be successful, teachers must have open discussions with the group about the book and mathematics concepts and languages as well as have students read and write their own sentences about these concepts.  Teachers are also encouraged to use scaffolding through questions to solidify the concepts and to assess understanding with group demonstrations and discussions.

Harris, J. (1999).  Interweaving language and mathematics literacy through a story. 

     Teaching Children Mathematics, 5(42), 520-525.