Writing to Learn – Even in Math Class

“Writing is how we think our way into a subject and make it our own.”
William Zinsser, Author of Writing to Learn

Guest Post by Elizabeth Pauley, math teacher, Grapevine, TX

A few years ago, administrative leadership changes on my campus brought a whole new outlook into meaningful instructional practices. As a campus, we each read The Fundamental 5 by Sean Cain, and the participated in a year long book study as a faculty. The discussions brought forward by this book study were phenomenal. Educators began to reflect on their own teaching practices, realizing that we had lost sight of the most important part of our lessons…our students and their success!

The chapter that spoke the loudest to me was the one about writing critically. One may ask, “Why would you need to write in a math classroom, when all you work with are numbers? For me, I realized that if my learners were able to write about a given math concept they would be better able to internalize that concept and apply it in a variety of ways. As I read and reread the writing critically chapter, I made the decision to jump ship from the “traditional” math classroom and devote time each day to writing in class. Post-it notes became our best friends, as well as our exit tickets.

Untitled2At first, I started small. The first time I introduced a new math concept, I gave students 4 pictures & sentence stems to explain how they might feel about the concept.  Given 2 minutes to reflect and write their ideas, students proceed to the picture that best described their feelings on the designated chart. Students then shared with others who have a common connection. As a group, students prepared a statement about why this graphic was chosen. The insight I gain from both their written and oral conversations allows me better understand where I should take the instruction next.

By putting their thoughts as well as various mathematical processes into written language, students began to understand the abstract ideas commonly misunderstood by my learners. I was also surprised to find that rarely do I hit any resistance by my students, which I think is due to having writing being a daily part of our learning process.


My desire for wanting to continue to develop a culture of writing in my classroom lead me to want to start a class blog, before I could expect my students to participate, I knew I would have to be familiar with the idea. This June I decided to embark on this new learning journey and begin our class blog (www.ourlearningjourneyinmath.blogspot.com). It’s a definite work in progress but I love the joy that writing brings to my life. I’m looking forward to this love of writing trickling down to my students this year as they begin to share their experiences in our learning journey!

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