Learning Mathematics Through Literature

The union of the mathematician with the poet, fervor with measure, passion with correctness, this surely is the ideal” – William James, a prominent psychologist and philosopher.

Mathematics is often understood as a challenging subject to learn. Today, more and more teachers begin to see how children books can actually help students overcome mathematics anxiety, helping them remain interested in learning mathematics.

Studies continue to suggest that children are likely to understand mathematics more when the subject is being presented in a way that is meaningful to them. David Whitin, in his book, titled “Math Is Language Too: Talking and Writing in the Mathematics Classroom,” asserts that;

Through varied opportunities for investigation, these books support readers in developing healthy attitudes and dispositions about mathematical activity.”

Those who are interested to try, the following are guidelines for selecting such books. The book, in essence, must be able to:

  • Connect to your students’ background knowledge.
  • Bridge abstract knowledge to concrete knowledge.
  • Apply new knowledge to real-world situations.

There are many picture books and storybooks out there to choose from. But not all of them are suitable to suit the purpose of enhancing a mathematics lesson. When deciding to get one, remember that story comes first. Then mathematics. The story is what will excite kids in the first place. Here are some of them:

1) Children books that teach counting and adding

2) Children books that teach counting backwards and subtraction

3) Children books that teach measurement

4) Children books that teach about money

Rosamond Welchman-Tischler, in her book, “How to Use Children’s Literature to Teach Mathematics,” suggests ways to enhance students’ learning experiences by using literature to teach mathematics.

The following are her suggestions in key points;

  • Provide a context or model for an activity with mathematical content.
  • Introduce manipulatives that will be used in varied ways (not necessarily as in the story).
  • Inspire a creative mathematics experience for children.
  • Pose an interesting problem.
  • Prepare for a mathematics concept or skill.
  • Develop or explain a mathematics concept or skill.
  • Review a mathematics concept or skill.

Most of the children’s books are very plot-driven. They are often filled with such interesting stories that may sometimes require their readers to solve a mathematical problem or two (i.e. compare numerical amounts or maybe tell time).


Price, R. R., & Lennon, C. (2009). Using children’s literature to teach mathematics. NC: Quantile.

Janes, R. C. & Strong, E. L. (2014). Numbers and stories: Using children’s literature to teach young children number sense Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press doi: 10.4135/9781483330907

Whitin, P., & Whitin, D. J. (2000). Math is language too: talking and writing in the mathematics classroom. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

ILA’s Blog. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2017/06/01/how-children-s-literature-and-math-can-go-hand-in-hand.

Welchman-Tischler, R. (2006). How to use childrens literature to teach mathematics. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Radebaugh, Muriel Rogie. “Using Children’s Literature to Teach Mathematics.” The Reading Teacher, vol. 34, no. 8, 1981, pp. 902–906. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20195366. Accessed 12 Jan. 2020.

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