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Lesson Plan

Bridging Literature and Mathematics by Visualizing Mathematical Concepts

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Bridging Literature and Mathematics by Visualizing Mathematical Concepts

Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Five 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

David Whitin

David Whitin

Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan

Phyllis Whitin

Phyllis Whitin

Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Session Four

Session Five


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will:

  • read and discuss two pieces of children's literature.

  • analyze two authors' styles and the techniques used to convey mathematical information.

  • write and illustrate a comparative example to explain mathematical details about an animal's size or abilities.

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Session One

  1. Read aloud and discuss Actual Size, a book that not only introduces students to a variety of animals, but also presents those animals, or their body parts, at their actual size.

  2. Invite students to comment, by asking open-ended questions such as the following:

    • Who would like to say something about this page?

    • What do you find interesting? Surprising?

    • What does _____ remind you of?
  3. It is likely that students will use their hands to make some personal comparisons with the illustrations (e.g., “I can’t even stretch my hand across that squid’s eyeball!”).

  4. Although the book can be read and discussed in one sitting, you may prefer to read a few of the examples each day over a longer period.

  5. After you read about each creature, you may want to read aloud the corresponding endnote description for the animal.

  6. Ask students to discuss the following: “What does the author, Steven Jenkins, do to hook the reader’s interest?”

  7. List several ideas on chart paper. Save this chart for Session Three.

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Session Two

  1. Read aloud If You Hopped like a Frog, a children’s book that compares human feats like jumping with those same actions in animals. For example, if you hopped like a frog in a baseball game, you could get to first base in one hop!

  2. Invite students to comment, by asking open-ended questions such as the following:

    • What animal feat do you find the most interesting? Why?

    • Why can these animals do these things?

    • What does these animal feats tell us about the animals’ adaptations to their environment?
  3. Again, while reading, invite the students’ observations.

  4. Ask students to discuss the following: “What do the author and illustrator do to hook the reader’s interest?”

  5. Note students’ ideas on a second chart to use in Session Three.

  6. If there is time, ask the students to complete the math presented in the animal information. For example, if a snake can eat something twice as wide as its head, how big would their prey be?

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Session Three

  1. Display both of the books, Actual Size and If You Hopped Like a Frog.

  2. Review the charts of the students’ comments regarding both books.

  3. Ask students what similarities and differences they see between the books.

  4. Working as a class or in small groups or pairs, create a Venn Diagram to represent their analysis. This can be done online or in a print version.

  5. Use students’ ideas to discuss how both books try to help the readers understand the different measurements of animals. Be sure to highlight the use of actual size pictures, and verbal comparisons with familiar objects to show various ratios. For example:

    • Verbal comparison to a familiar object:

      • A giant squid’s eyeballs are “the size of basketballs.” This comparison shows a one-to-one ratio.

      • "If you could hop like a frog you could jump from home plate to first base in one mighty leap.” This sentence compares body length to the distance of leap, which is a one-to-20 ratio.

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Session Four

  1. Review the Venn Diagram from Session Three, while telling students that they will use the information from the books about the animals in their own inquiries.

  2. Explain that students will research an animal and its related attributes and then publish their information. Students will research, write and illustrate their information.

  3. Discuss options for their projects with the students.

  4. Discuss expectations for this assignment, as well as the specifics for what the children will be doing:

    • Choose an animal from one of the texts.

    • Conduct further research, using print and online sources as necessary.

    • Find a measurement tool that will help solve the problem.

    • Work on measuring accurately.

    • Compare the statistic and an everyday object, using words and numbers to explain ideas and findings.

    • Illustrate the comparison to help the reader understand it.

    • Write an explanation on the procedure and solution.
  5. Answer any questions that the students may have before allowing them time to work. Direct students to the Websites National Geographic Animal Facts, Animal Weigh In, and KidsClick! Animals, where they can find information on a variety of animals.

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Session Five

  1. Allow time for the students to work on their projects.

  2. If desired, students can use the Multigenre Mapper, which provides an area for illustrations as well as three text boxes, to publish their work:

    • One text box can be used for the quote from the book.

    • One text box can be used to document the research conducted by the student.

    • One text box can be used to summarize the mathematical and scientific findings.
  3. Other publishing options include the Stapleless Book or the ReadWriteThink Printing Press.

  4. At the end of the work session, provide time for children to share their comparisons with the whole class.

  5. Students can revise and edit their work for another audience during writing workshop.

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  • Explore area measurement using the gorilla’s hand in Actual Size. Trace the hand and distribute copies. Have students first record an estimate of how much larger the gorilla’s hand is than their own hands. Record their strategies for this calculation. Next ask students to use squared centimeter paper to calculate exact measurements and record their findings. Provide time for class discussion.

  • Research statistics for any animal, using print and online resources. Create a short book, using the Stapleless Book for a younger child (pen pal, reading buddy), that uses familiar comparisons to illustrate some of the mathematical statistics about animals. Be sure to use comparisons that reflect the experiences of young children. (Students might also explain how the animals’ adaptations help it survive.)

  • Have students collect examples of analogies and comparisons in published scientific writing (newspapers, trade books, and so on). Discuss the effectiveness of various examples and develop suggestions for students to use while composing expository texts. See the ReadWriteThink lesson Imagine That! Playing with Genre through Newspapers and Short Stories for ideas on introducing expository writing. The students can use the ReadWriteThink Printing Press to publish their own scientific writing.

  • Tap the ReadWriteThink lesson Webcams in the Classroom: Animal Inquiry and Observation to extend your exploration of animal feats by observing animal habits and habitats using one of the many webcams broadcasting from zoos and aquariums around the United States and the world.

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  • Use anecdotal notetaking or kidwatching to track students’ cognitive skills as they explain their thinking in sorting, comparing and contrasting, and forming the Venn diagram.

  • As students record their work on the Venn Diagram, check for accuracy in the unions and sets that students have recorded. Encourage students to label their diagrams and to explain their work using think-aloud techniques. Be sure that students make their thinking visible through “rough-draft” talk as they explore the connections between mathematics and language.

  • Assess the students’ projects using the Assessment Guidelines.

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