Teaching With Trade Books – Math

As a middle school mathematics teacher, you probably feel like you don’t have enough time to teach all of your content within the course of a school year. Why on earth would you ever want to add more material in the form of trade books when you can’t seem to finish your assigned textbook? Turns out that making time to incorporate children’s literature in your classroom can led to rich results.

One of the most immediate benefits of using trade books is increasing student engagement. High quality trade books are written as to spark interest and create a desire to read. Many contain colorful, interesting illustrations, photographs, and diagrams, all of which draw students into the text and improve comprehension. Contrast this with the reaction that many students have toward the textbook: either a lack of interest or an assumption that the assigned reading will be too difficult.

Incorporating children’s literature also allows you to differentiate instruction and support English Language Learners and struggling readers in a way that textbooks cannot. If you visit the children’s section of your school or local library, you’ll discover a wealth of books for students on every reading level and topic. Using trade books which better match students’ abilities can help them build content knowledge and interact more successfully with the required text.

Of course, successful integration of children’s literature into your middle school mathematics class requires planning and forethought. Here are some tips for using trade books in your classroom. The following resources will guide you in finding exemplary trade books and lessons.

Mathematics and Children’s Literature
In three lessons from NCTM Illuminations, students participate in activities in which they focus on connections between mathematics and children’s literature. Three pieces of literature are used to teach geometry and measurement topics in the mathematics curriculum, from using and describing geometric figures to estimating volume of figures.

Lesson 1: Shapes and Poetry – Students read the poem “Shapes” from A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein, and create their own illustration of the poem. In this lesson, students explore geometric figures and positional words.

Lesson 2: Estimating Volume by Counting on Frank – In this lesson, students read the book Counting on Frank. They use information in the book to make estimates involving volume. In particular, students explore the size of humpback whales.

Lesson 3: How Big Is a Foot? – In this lesson, students read the book How Big Is a Foot?, by Rolf Myller. They then create non-standard units (using their own footprints) and use them to make “beds.” As a result, students explore the need for a standard unit of measure.

One Grain of Rice
In this lesson, also from NCTM Illuminations, students take on the role of a villager in a third-world country trying to feed her village. While listening to the teacher read aloud the book One Grain of Rice by Demi, students work collaboratively to come up with a bargaining plan to trick the raja into feeding the village using algebra, exponential growth, and estimation.

Ohio Resource Center (ORC) Mathematics Bookshelf
The Mathematics Bookshelf features outstanding trade books that support mathematics instruction in K–12 classrooms. Mathematics Review Board members have selected books that will appeal to students and enrich the teaching and learning of mathematics. Each book review includes:

— a brief summary of the story
— the main mathematical ideas
— suggestions for how to use the book
— the value of the book in standards-based instruction
— standards alignment
— a list of related ORC resources

Math and Nonfiction, Grades 6–8
This print book helps teachers build on their students’ natural passion for knowledge as they engage in real-world mathematical problem solving. The lessons in this book use nonfiction as a springboard to explore mathematical concepts key to the middle school curriculum.

Read any Good Math Lately?
This print book by David Whitin and Sandra Wilde acquaints readers with some of the best children’s literature containing a mathematical subtext, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, books of games and puzzles, books that reflect different cultures. The titles are diverse, but they all address a range of mathematical topics: place value, estimation, large numbers, geometry, measurement, fractions, classification, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

It’s the Story that Counts
This print book, also by David Whitin and Sandra Wilde, explains ways books have been used to explore mathematical concepts, the importance of children’s spontaneous reactions, and the role of mathematical conversation. It also focuses on the books themselves, exploring multicultural themes and images in books, books on the number system, statistics, and probability.

Math and Literature, Grades 6-8
This print book by Jennifer M. Bay-Williams and Sherri L. Martinie brings the joy of children’s literature to the middle-school math classroom. It contains lessons and ideas based on 30 children’s literature titles. Children explore mathematical concepts based on lessons derived from titles such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Holes.

Search for Literature
The California Department of Education has created this online literature search for science and mathematics with over 1,400 titles in the search database. The search includes the typical categories found in a search for literature at a library, such as author, title, and keyword. It also contains a customized search for selecting up to three categories that relate more specifically to education. Those categories include grade level, language, genre, classifications (types of books), curriculum connections, awards (by author or illustrator), science subject area, mathmatics subject area, science standards connections, and math standards connections (California state standards). Teachers will find useful a recommended list of literature for science and mathematics.


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We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/08/2011.

19 thoughts on “Teaching With Trade Books – Math

  1. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful resource. Implementing trade books/children’s literature is a passion of mine particularly since Sherri Martinie (co-author of Math and Literature and Math and Non-Fiction) was my cooperating teacher during my student teaching semester. Such a phenomenal teacher!

  2. Thanks for this information. I am an English teacher and a firm believer in cross-curricular units and in literacy an writing across the curriculum. I have always fallen down on the job when attempting to incorporate mathematics into these units. Now, thanks to these wonderful resources, my students will have the well-rounded and balanced of content they deserve in these units. If anyone have further resources or ideas for problems for using problem-based learning projects in an English class, please contact me on Twitter @gr8english. Thanks!

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