Using Literature in Math Instruction

Using Literature in Math Instruction

This post was contributed by 3rd Grade homeroom teacher Justine Cook.


Children love stories, and so parents and teachers can use this to their advantage and use literature as a vehicle for teaching and consolidating understanding. Literature can be a great teaching tool, as it can be used to highlight concepts, act as a springboard to new math learning, stimulate discussion, or provide alternate explanations of a concept. Stories can make mathematical concepts more accessible, as they put math into a meaningful context, provide visual aids for the students, and encourage communication, helping to support all learners.

In third grade, we use books throughout the year in our math classes. We just finished our multiplication and division unit, and below are some of our favorite books for learning multiplication and division!

Amanda Bean's Amazing Dream: A Mathematical Story by Cindy Neuschwander

Amanda Bean loves to count things, all the time, but is unsure how multiplication will speed up the process. A dream overwhelms her counting abilities, and when she wakes up she is convinced that she wants to learn how to multiply. Multiple pictures in the book include arrays (cookies at a bakery, plants in a park), and children can compare the time it takes them to count all of the objects in these arrays with the time it takes to multiply. Children can also use these arrays to discuss different ways to count each array. In addition, the context of the story supports discussing what things come in twos, threes, fours, etc. as a gateway to the concept of multiplication. In third grade, we use this book to introduce multiplication to the students each year.

Two of Everything by Lily Toy Hong

Mr. and Mrs. Haktuk are poor farmers. One day, Mr. Haktuk digs up an ancient brass pot in his garden. Mr. and Mrs. Haktuk discover that the pot doubles anything that they put inside of it, whether it is a single item or a group of items. This is a good book for when the children are just starting multiplication since it focuses only on doubling, and the twos facts are what we start with in third grade.

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner

This fun story imagines what snowmen do each night while we are asleep, with ideas like snowball fights, sledding, and making snow angels. The rhyming scheme and illustrations make for a fun, lighthearted book. Since snowmen are often made with three large spheres of snow, we ask the students how many spheres we would need if we wanted to make 2, 3, 4, etc. snowmen. We have the kids each design their own snowman and then come up with number sentences for multiple snowmen. For example, if they use two pieces of coal for the eyes and they needed to make seven snowmen, they would write 7 x 2 = 14 pieces of coal. It's an easy way to meet the kids where they are since we can make this as simple or as complicated as they can handle.

One Hundred Hungry Ants by E. Pinczes

Rhyming text describes a line of 100 ants traveling to reach a picnic. They start in one long line of 100, but to get there faster one ant suggests dividing into two lines of fifty, then four lines of twenty-five, then five lines of twenty, and finally ten lines of ten. The changes in their formation take them so long, though, that the food is gone by the time they arrive. The ants are shown in total and in their new formation on each page. This is another good way to talk about arrays, but in terms of division, as well as the concept of factors. Grouping can also be discussed based on this book. We have the children come up with another number and find how many ways the ants could organize themselves in that case.

Bean Thirteen by M. McElligott

Two bugs, Flora and Ralph, have thirteen beans between them and try to devise a way to divide them evenly. But no matter how they divide them, they still have bean thirteen left over. They even invite others over to try to divide the beans evenly, but still have the one left over. This story is a good way to introduce the concept of remainders in division, as well as discussion of prime numbers and what that means in terms of division.

One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi

An Indian village is going through a rice famine, but the greedy raja will not share his collection of rice with the villagers. Rani, a clever young girl in the village, is rewarded one day for a good deed. The raja offers her whatever she wants, and so she asks for just one grain of rice, doubled every day for 30 days. The story shows how her reward of rice quickly grows with each passing day. Children can make predictions about the amount of rice that she will have at the end of the month, and can then mark on their own calendars the number of grains of rice Rani received on each day as the story goes on. Students can then add them all up to get the total. There is a calendar in the back of the book with each day's total, as well as the overall total for children to check their answers. Children can find the answers either by doubling through addition, or by multiplying by two, but either way it involves some large numbers, so it offers a great challenge problem for children this age.

If You Hopped Like a Frog by D.M. Schwartz

This fun book can offer both a challenge and also meet the kids where they are. Throughout the book, different scenarios are presented, showing what it would be like if you could hop like a frog, eat like a shrew, or flick your tongue like a chameleon. Mathematical and scientific explanations follow each scenario. Children can use the facts presented to calculate what they themselves could do, using extended multiplication facts. For example, they learn that if they could hop like a frog, then they could jump twenty times their body length. But, we can use the book to keep things simple as well, focusing on the number of legs on each animal presented in the book, and creating multiplication facts with that. For example, if you find 4 fleas on the family dog, how many flea legs would that be (4 x 6 = 24 legs).

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