Ideas to Get Students Writing in Math

Integrating writing and math is critical in twenty-first century classrooms. Mathematical writing is an effective way to encourage students to make sense of concepts and skills, think critically, make connections, explain thinking, communicate ideas, practice literacy skills, self-assess, and reflect on learning. Read below to learn more about integrating writing into math instruction by examining why writing is important in math, ways to get students writing in math class, tips for supporting writers during math, what math journals are, how to write a good math journal prompt, and things to use math journals for besides writing.

Writing in math is important because it gives children the opportunity to make sense of concepts and skills, think critically, make connections, explain thinking, communicate ideas, practice literacy skills, self-assess, and reflect on their learning. 

Read below to learn about some of the many ways to get students writing in math. 
  • Daily Prompts: Give students a prompt at the beginning of class that asks them to make connections, justify rules, explain a procedure, etc. and have them write down their response.
  • I Think, I Notice, I Wonder: Pose a problem to students and ask them fill in a graphic organizer with three categories: 1) I Think, 2) I Notice, 3) I Wonder.
  • Think-Write-Share: Pose a problem to the class. Have the students solve it and write how they solved it. When the time is up, invite students to share their strategy and explanation with a partner.
  • Read and Write: Read aloud a text or provide students with a text to read and have them respond in writing to a prompt based on the text.
  • Shared Writing: Work together as a whole group to communicate information about concepts, procedures, or strategies on chart paper.
  • Alphabet Book: Make an alphabet book as a class based on math vocabulary.
  • Take Notes: Invite students to take notes during the lesson by writing down procedures, definitions, etc.
  • Make Notes: Ask students to list the main points of a lesson and make connections between new concepts and previously-learned concepts.
  • Math Dictionary Entries: Students write vocabulary words and definitions in a notebook that they can refer back to. 
  • Concept Maps: Ask students to create a graphic organizer to help them make sense of a math concept.
  • Technology: Utilize a class website or online tool to facilitate questions and discussions.
  • Act as the Teacher: Ask students to write their own story problem and share it with a classmate to solve.  A second option is to have students create quizzes for each other. 
  • Exit Ticket: Ask students to complete this formative assessment to determine their understanding of the lesson.
  • Assessment Reflection: When students get an assessment back after it is graded, ask them to analyze the problems they got incorrect and explain in writing what they did wrong and what they should have done instead.
  • Math Journal: Give students a journal where they can reflect on essential questions, big ideas, daily lessons, prompts, etc.


  • Write or post related vocabulary words in a spot where all students can see them.
  • Explain who the students are writing to (teacher, a younger student, etc.).
  • Encourage students to share their ideas with a partner before they begin to write.
  • Invite struggling writers to formulate their idea with an adult in the classroom.
  • Circulate around the room and support students as needed.
  • Inspire students to use pictures, symbols, numbers, and words to add details to their writing.

Math journals are ongoing and chronological records of what students are learning in math.  They are a tool that help students reinforce and reflect on their understanding of math concepts and skills.  Not only are math journals beneficial for students, but they are also beneficial for teachers too.  Teachers can use math journals as a formal or informal assessment to monitor student progress and understanding.

A math journal prompt should be open-ended and an opportunity for students to...
  • Think deeply about a concept or skill
  • Problem solve
  • Learn from the question
  • Deepen their understanding of a concept or skill
  • Discover new ideas and connections
  • Explain their thinking
  • Reflect on their learning
  • Assess their own understanding and knowledge

Example 1: I have 5 coins in my pocket. Their sum is greater than $1. Give me 3 possible combinations.
Sample Answer: 5 quarters, 4 quarters and 1 dime, 4 quarters and 1 penny

Example 2: What are 5 things you know about the number 12?
Sample Answer: It is an even number; It has 1 ten and 2 ones; It can be divided evenly into 2, 3, 4, and 6 groups; It has 2 digits; It is the sum or the doubles fact 6 + 6

Example 3: Prove 3 + 2 = 5.
Sample Answer: I know 3 + 2 = 5 because I know the sum of the doubles fact 2 + 2 is 4 and 1 more than 2 is 3 so 4 + 1 = 5.

Student math journals do not require students to solely write explanations in paragraph form in them.  They can be filled with drawings, photographs, newspaper clippings and more. Here is a list of ideas that you can incorporate into your student math journals:
  • Articles about famous mathematicians
  • Diagrams
  • Drawings
  • Math vocabulary words and definitions
  • Newspaper clippings related to math
  • Photographs of student work
  • Photographs of students solving problems
  • Sketches of symmetric objects
  • Student reflections
  • Tracings of math manipulatives

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