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Using Children’s Literature to Motivate Math Lessons

Janelle Cox

Teachers often use children’s literature to enhance or supplement a lesson in language arts, social studies or science. It’s not too often that you hear about teachers using children’s literature in math lessons. I’m not sure if it’s because teachers don’t know how to, or if it’s that they never realized how easy and effective it can be. Here we will take a look at how literature can enhance math lessons, as well as the stories that work well.

How Can Literature Enhance Math Lessons?

According to research, using children’s literature in math lessons can enhance learning in many ways. It can help build an intangible perception of math skills through illustrations, as well as help students build problem solving skills. In addition to that, children’s literature can:

  • Provide meaningful context for mathematical content.
  • Review a mathematics concept or specific skill.
  • Promote the development of number sense.
  • Model an interesting problem.
  • Explain a mathematics concept.
  • Promote critical thinking.
  • Increase the level of interest.

Math becomes more interesting when a child can make a math connection in a story. When children are reading or listening to a book, they learn to recognize that math is used all around them. They begin to use their prior knowledge to connect math concepts to the outside world.

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Math-Related Children’s Books

There are many children’s books that have math-related content and themes. When choosing literature, you may want to select books that either have math concepts that drive the story, or that are embedded in the story. Here are a few examples sorted by concept or skill.

Counting, Adding

“Quack and Count,” by Keith Baker. – This book teaches young children about the ways numbers can be added together. Students can look at the illustrations of the ducklings and count them, as well as learn different ways to add to get the same result. Related book: “12 Ways to Get to 11,” by Eve Merriam.

“Mission Addition,” Leedy, L. – Appropriate for grades K-3, this story teaches different strategies to solve math problems, math symbols, terminology, and writing equations.

  •  “From One to One Hundred” by Teri Sloat.
  • “Every Buddy Counts” by Stuart J. Murphy.
  • “On Beyond a Million” by David M. Schwartz.
  • “The Twelve Days of Kindergarten” by Deborah Lee Rose.
  • “Two Ways to Count to Ten” by Ruby Dee.

Counting Backwards, Subtraction

“Monster Math” by Grace Maccarone -- A silly story about disappearing monsters. The descending monsters are a great way to teach students about subtraction and number sense.

“Ten Timid Ghosts” by Jennifer O’connell This story uses rhyme and repetition to teach students how to count backwards. This book can be used to teach students how to write number sentences and subtraction. Related book” “Turtle Splash! Countdown at the Pond” by Cathryn Falwell.

  • “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” by Eileen Christelow
  • “The Action of Subtraction” by Brian P. Cleary
  • “Monster Musical Chairs” by Stuart Murphy
  • “If You Were a Minus Sign” by Speed Shaskan
  • “Subtraction Action” by Loreen Leedy

Measurement

“Mr. Cookie Baker” by Monica Wellington - Students follow the process of measuring, mixing and baking cookies in this delightful story. Great book to teach students about measurement.

“Who Sank the Boat?” by Pamela Allen – Appropriate for students Kindergarten and up, this story introduces weight and balance concepts.

  •  “Tracks in the Sand” by Loreen Leedy
  • “Just a Little Bit” by Ann Tompert
  • “Now I’m Big” by Margaret Miller
  • “Millions to Measure” by David M. Schwartz
  • “Measuring Penny” by Loreen Leedy

Money

“The Penny Potby Stuart Murphy – Students will follow along as Jessie counts coins in this fantastic coin counting story appropriate for children grades 1-3.

“Alexander Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday” by Judith Viorst – Last Sunday Alexander’s grandparents gave him a dollar and he thought he was rich! But somehow the money slowly disappeared. Students will learn the value of money in this beloved picture book appropriate for grades 1-3.

  •  “Bennies Pennies” by Pat Brisson
  • “A Dollar for Penny” by Julie Class
  • “A Quarter for the Tooth Fairy” by Caren Holtzman
  • “Trouble with Money” by Stan Berenstain, Jan Berenstain
  • “Curious George Saves Pennies” by Margret Rey

What is your favorite children’s book to motivate math lessons? Share with us! We would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who draws on her 15 years of professional experience in the education system. As a trained educational professional, she utilizes her experience to provide content and knowledge to the online community. Janelle holds a master's of science in education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, where she provides educational information and lesson plans for teachers around the globe. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators