What’s the Best Story to Teach Kids Math?

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If you’re like me, you will agree that one of the best parts of being a teacher is reading a story to children. How about when teaching math?

Benefits of Integrating Literature with Math

  • The importance of vocabulary development and success in math is well documented and what better way to teach math vocabulary than with a story.
  • Literature makes math come alive for kids and helps them make connections to real life.
  • Integrating literature into math can connect other subjects as well. Find books that connect science or social studies. Point out that math can help solve all sorts of problems.
  • Most importantly, while reading and sharing illustrations, you get to see “light bulbs come on”, smiles, and some great thinking

Criteria For Selecting Literature

• Mathematical Integrity
• Potential for Varied Responses
• Aesthetic Dimensions
• Ethnic, Cultural, and Gender Inclusiveness
-David Whitin and Phyllis Whitin

A Short List of Favorite Math Stories to Get You Started

Equal Schmequal, by Virgina Kroll

Literature story to teach math

Mouse wants to play tug-o’-war with her friends, but when Bear pulls on the rope, Mouse goes flying!
How can she make the teams equal? The animals try splitting up in different ways, but nothing works until Mouse starts thinking mathematically.
Ask the students what is equal and not equal at their house?

7 ate 9 An Untold Story, by Tara Lazar

Literature story to teach math

6 has a problem.
Everyone knows that 7 is always after him. Word on the street is that 7 ate 9.
If that’s true, 6’s days are numbered. Lucky for him, Private I is on the case.
But the facts just don’t add up. It’s odd. …

Pete the Cat & His Four Groovy Buttons, by James Dean

pete the cat story to teach math

Count down with Pete in this rocking story that makes counting fun!
Pete the Cat is wearing his favorite shirt—the one with the four totally groovy buttons. But when one falls off, does Pete cry? Goodness, no! 
He just keeps on singing his song—after all, what could be groovier than three groovy buttons? 
This book is a winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award.

Ten Flashing Fireflies, by Philemon SturgesAnna Vojtech

When counting down from ten to one, a girl and a boy empty the night sky of fireflies as — counting up from one to ten — they fill their jar with them. But once captured, the fireflies’ light flickers and fades, so in a generous goodnight gesture, the children release them.

Luminous pictures and a chant-aloud text combine to make this two-way counting book as joyous and magical as catching fireflies on a summer night.

12 Ways to get 11, by Eve Mirriam and Bernie Karlin

“12 Ways to Get to 11” is a counting book about decomposing, or breaking apart, the number 11 in various ways.
Each page shows a different combination of objects, such as nine pinecones and two acorns.
The story encourages children to think about counting objects in the world around them.

More or Less, by Stuart Murphy and David Wenzel

teaching math with literature

Is your age more than 5?
Is it less than 10? Eddie’s got to guess. And he doesn’t want to be wrong! Eddie has a booth at the school fair, guessing people’s ages.
He hasn’t guessed wrong yet, but if he does, he gets dunked. 

The Action of Subtraction, by Brian Cleary and Brian Gable.

Rhyming text filled with funny, countable examples shows what it means to take one number away from another. Readers are also introduced to the terminology they’ll encounter as they learn to subtract.

A place for Zero, by Angeline Lopresti

Join Zero on his math adventure as he discovers his place through multiplication.
Zero is lonely in Digitaria. He can’t play Addemup with the other numbers because he has nothing to add. All the other numbers seem to belong and they all have a place, but when zero discovers multiplication he thinks he might have a place there.
He sets out to find King Multiplus who also is curious about what will happen when Zero gets thrown into the mix.
With math and wordplay, A Place for Zero is the perfect introduction to multiplication and number placement.

count your way through South Africa
by James Haskins & Kathleen Benson

You can count your way from one, or kunye (KOO-nyeh), to ten, or ishumi (ee-SHOO-mee), in Zulu!
Using simple text, authors Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson introduce South African culture. Learn about many of South Africa’s unique features, from one gold nugget to the six colors on the South African flag. Colorful illustrations bring South Africa to life.

the doorbell rang by Pat hutchins

The Doorbell Rang tells the simple story of Sam and Victoria who were just about to sit down and enjoy some fresh cookies when some friends arrive and the four children divide the cookies four ways.
Soon, the doorbell rings again, and then again, and each time the number of cookies per person dwindles.

One Hundred Angry Ants, by Elinor Pinczes

One hundred hungry ants march off in single file to sample a picnic, but when the going gets too slow, they divide into two rows of fifty, then four rows of twenty . . . until they take so long that the picnic is gone!

evaluate math literature story

Read the book several times. Spend lots of time with the illustrations.
Ask the children what they noticed and discuss the math concepts from the book.

Most importantly- ENJOY THE STORIES

Find more about teaching children numeracy at Mathrecovery.org
You can find mini-lessons to teach math with Ready Set Math

Please let us know in the comments below what your favorite books are to share during math class.

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  1. These are all wonderful books to have in your classroom library! I also love Lunas Yum Yum Dim Sum (Storytelling Math) by Natasha Yim.

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