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# Writing in Mathematics Classrooms

By Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

For many of us, writing was not a part of how we learned in a mathematics class. Recently, however, all content areas have become concerned with students’ ability to think and communicate, and writing is one of the major ways of promoting both of these. Here are some specific ways that math teachers use quick writes, journals, and word problems to help students think and communicate mathematically.

### Quick Writes

As previewing activities, math teachers ask students to

List as many kinds of different triangles as you can in thirty seconds.
Draw and label three shapes that have different names.
List ways you use decimals in real-life activities.

To synthesize what was learned at the end of a class, ask students to

Define in your own words what parallel lines are.
Write in words what this formula means.
Use the symbols =, <, and > to write three true sentences.

To help students self-assess understanding, attitudes, and so on, you could use these prompts:

What did you not understand about today’s lesson?
List one or more terms you cannot clearly define.
I have the feeling many of you are not “with me” on this topic. Write what you are feeling about what we are doing and if there is anything I could change to help you feel more involved and successful.

### Journals

Journals call for more extended entries than quick writes and are most successful if used on a daily basis. Both high-structure and low-structure journals can be used in math class. Here are some examples of high-structure journal prompts math teachers use:

Draw and label pictures that will help you remember each of the shapes we have studied so far.
Write a paragraph using as many of the following words as possible. (List math terms you are studying.)
Analyze the mistakes made on your homework (or in-class work). What have you learned that will help you avoid making these same mistakes again?
Write an explanation of why we need to study _______, which would make sense to a younger friend who hasn’t yet taken this course.

### Word Problems

Solving word problems is an essential math skill but one that presents problems for many students. To understand word problems from the inside out, students are often helped by trying to write some. Most teachers find that because this is a difficult task, it is one at which students are more successful and are willing to tackle if they write cooperatively as a team of two or three members. Team members are asked to write word problems similar to the ones they have been trying to solve, and then two teams are paired to try to solve each other’s problems. The solving team points out any missing information or unclear language and the writing team rewrites. Finally, the combined team picks its “best” and most challenging problem for the whole class to solve.

Guidelines for changing word problems into easier ones include the following:

Using fewer words
Using shorter sentences
Using smaller numbers
Using simpler figures
Having fewer steps or operations
Putting the information in the order it will be used
Including a chart or diagram
Suggesting the use of manipulatives