Word Problems and Literacy

Suggestions for working with word problems and incorporating literacy:

1. Use word problems as a way to establish mnemonic imagery for a math concept.
2. Present word problems orally or audiovisually.
3. Have students write longer math stories.
4. Write word problem poems or verse.
5. Draw word problems (without text).
6. Sing word problems or write word problem music.

Gerofsky, S. (2004). A man left albuquerque heading east: Word problems as genre in mathematics education. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Communicate Mathematically

In their article, Watch Your Language! Recommendations to Help Students Communicate Mathematically, Bratina and Lipkin “suggest methods to help students improve their critical reading skills and to become better problem solvers” (p. 3).  Here are a few of their suggestions:

1: Include specific language arts activities in mathematics lessons
Use frequent, regular, and brief word wall activities (Bratina & Lipkin, p. 4).

2. Create instances for students to experience words in different contexts
For example, include true-false items such as, “Some squares are rectangles.” or “All squares are rectangles.” or “Some rectangles are squares.”  Items like these will lead to mathematical conversations and help students to comprehend complex statements (Bratina & Lipkin, p. 5).

3. Provide time for students to practice the language.
“Both comprehension and accuracy are essential for the development of proficiency in mathematics, and should precede attempts to perform operations with speed.  But once the students have grasped the meanings of mathematical words and symbols, they need to become fluent in using this mathematical language” (Bratina & Lipkin, p. 7).
Just as students need to master the basics of reading and then practice reading fluently and for comprehension, similarly students need to master the basics of math and then practice math for automaticity.

Suggestions for practicing the language of math:
Say it out loud
Cloze procedures
Games such as word searches, crossword puzzles, and cryptograms

4. Praise student perseverance
“When students are engaged in problem-solving exercises, have them read the entire problem before trying to analyze and dissect it.  Then have them read it again.  And again!  In other words, let the students know that instantaneous understanding is not the norm” (Bratina & Lipkin, p. 9).
Instead of asking, “Does everyone understand what we just read?”, ask students to restate or rewrite the problem in their own words.

5. Be a role model (Bratina & Lipkin, p. 10)
Set up a bulletin board as a “Wall of Fame” and post pictures of students when you catch them performing well, such as exhibiting strong communication skills.  Share examples of “real” people who are role models and involved in the communication and mathematics world, such as news anchors, and the first female shuttle commander, Air Force Colonel Eileen Collins.

You can find Bratina & Lipkin’s full article here.