5 Engaging Books for Math Read-Alouds
Plus activities teachers can use to help students improve their reading comprehension and understanding of math concepts.
Read-aloud time is typically dedicated to building reading comprehension. Sometimes teachers incorporate some social studies ideas, but rarely does math get to be front and center.
That should change because math and reading don’t exist in separate silos. Adults who use math on a daily basis also need to be strong, fluent readers. Likewise, math requires strong logical reasoning skills, which can be honed in tandem with with reading skills. This is why reading about math, as well as using reading as an opportunity to engage with mathematical concepts, should be embraced.
When we blend these disciplines, we invite students to engage with math in a new—and often far more inviting—way. Kids who have struggled with geometry may love the opportunity to write a shape story, for instance—and it might even help them to remember that a square is a type of rectangle but a rectangle is not a type of square.
This far-from-exhaustive list of read-aloud books and related activities can help get teachers started thinking about how to incorporate mathematical reasoning, logic, and concepts into literacy instruction.
Math Curse, written by John Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith, is a hilarious book about a student who, after being told that anything can be a math problem, wakes up to find that she can only see math problems in everything around her.
Activities: Math curse your students—have them go around the school and find math problems. You can extend the lesson by having them solve the problems they find (or pick a few for the class to work on together). For instance, you might pose the problem of needing new classroom supplies. Give students a budget and prices for items and encourage them to decide how to spend the money.
Actual Size, by Steve Jenkins, explains the sizes of different parts of animals, from a gorilla’s hand to the world’s largest tarantula. It’s fantastic for teaching size and scale, and the collage illustrations are beautiful.
Activities: Have students choose an animal they’re interested in and build either the whole animal or part of it in its actual size. For example, students could pick an insect and research its dimensions, then draw it accurately on graph paper. For a more elaborate project, students could draw an animal to scale on a large piece of craft paper or with painters tape on the floor; alternatively, they could build it using papier-mâché.
In the engaging tale Triangle, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, Triangle tries to trick his friend Square... and a battle of the shapes ensues. This book is part of the Shape Trilogy—don’t forget to check out Circle and Square.
Activities: Have students write a shape story with at least one fact about each shape included. For younger students, you might give them part of the story and encourage them to finish it. Or have them write a song or poem about a shape of their choosing.
As an alternative, have your students create a podcast in which they interview a shape. They can ask that shape about its favorite uses (e.g., “I’m a pentagon and my favorite use is a baseball plate”), its best friends (“As a pentagon, I love squares because when we get together it looks like we’ve made a pencil!”), and so on.
The Map of Good Memories
When Zoe has to flee her hometown because of war, she creates a “map of good memories” in this book written written by Fran Nuño and illustrated by Zuzanna Celej.
Activities: Create a map of good memories with students. Each student can create their own, using a map of their home, school, or hometown. Or you can create a class map and have each student provide a memory for a different place in your town. This activity provides an opportunity to work on map skills such as measurement, scale, and distance. For older students, you might use graph paper to create a scaled map of good memories.
Infinity and Me
In Infinity and Me, written by Kate Hosford and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska, Uma looks up at the sky and feels small in the face of so much. This leads her to ponder what infinity means and looks like. This is an unusual book about a fascinating idea.
Activities: To get students thinking about the concept of infinity, sit in a circle and ask students to come up with the largest number they can. Go around until you feel like stopping, and declare the last person the winner. Your students will immediately point out that this is unfair because whoever goes last will win. Suggest another game: Do the same thing, but have students go around trying to say the smallest number they can. The same thing will happen. Discuss with students how a person could possibly win this game. This will spark a great conversation about how numbers can continue infinitely. Sitting in a circle gives students a physical view of infinity as well—you could go around that circle forever.
Another great way to get students thinking about infinity is to have them make a list of all of the things that go on infinitely, such as the number of stars in the universe or the number of times you can cut a rope in half.