5 Ways to Use Writing in the Secondary Math Classroom
Writing in math class…..something most teachers want to try, but are either nervous or unsure how to start. I know for me, incorporating writing was always way more intimidating that trying a new activity or something else. When you do numbers all day everyday, writing can seem so unnatural, but, really, it’s easier than you think. One versatile way to get started with writing in math class is to use writing prompts.
There are major benefits to including writing in math class, as well. If your students are anything like mine, then you know they just need practice with spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc. I was always astonished (and saddened) by the spelling of even my advanced students. I don’t know if texting is to blame or not, but I know their writing needs help before they try to fill out a college application or write a report for an employer!
Writing also forces students to organize their thinking. So, even a short writing assignment of explaining a process they just learned can really show you who gets it and who doesn’t. If you have never (or seldom) used writing in your math classroom, here are five of my favorite (and easiest) ways to get started!
1) WARM-UPS/ BELL-RINGERS
Warm-ups are a great way to start writing in math class if you have never done it before. The time period is relatively short and it helps get students started for the day. One way to do this would be to put a prompt on the board and have students write for the few minutes while you are taking attendance and/or checking homework. Students can simply hand in their responses when time is up and you can look at them later. This removes any anxiety students may have about sharing their writing with their classmates.
2) MATH JOURNAL/INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOK ENTRIES
Journal entries are a natural extension of any interactive notebook, so if you are already doing interactive notebooks (or thinking about it), this would be a great place to add writing. The nice thing about using writing prompts in conjunction with interactive notebooks is
that they are contained in the notebook and you don’t have extra papers to handle; you just grade the writing when you collect the notebooks. If you plan on having your students write in their notebooks, I suggest having it be a timed write, say ten minutes or so, that way students are forced to focus, collect their thoughts, and get to work. You could have a prompt on the board and everyone writes on the same topic or you could hand out prompts to students, so everyone is different. Personally, I like the “everyone does the same prompt” idea because I think it makes it easier when it comes to grading.
3) EARLY FINISHER ACTIVITIES
You know those students who always finish early and then talk to their neighbor (who is NOT finished)? Writing prompts can be a great way to keep early finishers from becoming a distraction to their classmates. You can keep a jar of laminated writing prompts in a designated spot in your room and when students finish early they know where to get one. One way to avoid the “but I only had two minutes, so I didn’t get one” excuse is to have students write the prompt at the top of their paper, then they can start and stop as time allows. Depending on your students and your teaching philosophy, you could also offer them as extra credit, so students are motivated to do them and do them well. Just be careful that the “extra points” don’t cause them to rush through their assigned work and either not learn it or make it sloppy.
4) VIDEO SUMMARIES
If you haven’t tried The Futures Channel videos yet, you are missing out! I wrote a separate blog post about them HERE. Basically, they are short videos on math or STEM related careers. Some require a subscription, but they always have several that are free to view. I have my students watch them and fill out a very short, five question paper on the video. I require correct spelling, punctuation, and complete sentences, so they still were practicing their writing. THESE are the papers I use for my students. They are a half sheet, so just copy half the number you need and cut in half.
5) EXIT TICKETS
Using writing prompts as exit tickets is very similar to using them as warm-ups. It is useful to have a planned activity for those last ten minutes of class when things can get a little crazy. You finish the lesson, and instead of homework time where some kids work really well and others…..don’t, you have ten minutes of writing that has to be handed in, so everyone is working. It helps maintain order at the end of class just like using them as a warm-up helps get order at the beginning of class. I would suggest a common prompt for the whole class that you put on the screen or board. This helps you when your grading, so you don’t have to reset your brain for each paper.
These five ways to use writing in math class are super easy, so I encourage you to try one (or more) of them this year! Once I started incorporating writing, I found I really liked it and started doing more and more of it. It helps students really think about what they are saying and writing is such a necessary skill in the workplace that our students need all the practice we can give them! I don’t do writing every day and it isn’t always the same type of writing exercise. Some days it would be a warm-up, other days a video summary, etc. Using writing prompts gives you just another way to mix it up a little bit! If you are looking for writing prompts, HERE are 52 prompts that are appropriate for most any middle or high school math class. Enjoy!