Standard Lesson

Draw a Math Story: From the Concrete to the Symbolic

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Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 40-minute sessions
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Students identify key mathematical vocabulary heard in read-alouds of math-oriented stories. The teacher then models math story writing by soliciting characters, setting, and plot from students, then drawing a series of images depicting students' story and paying special attention to the objects that increase or decrease. Students retell the story as the teacher writes their words under the pictures. When the story is complete, the teacher highlights the math vocabulary used in the story and helps students to write an equation to represent what happened. Students then work in small groups to create their own math stories using the process the teacher modeled. Each group draws a series of pictures that depict adding more or taking away objects; they then write a correlating story to go with the pictures they've drawn. Finally, students share their stories aloud and write equations to symbolize the adding and subtracting written into the stories.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

NCTE and IRA call for children to use reading, writing, speaking, and listening for a variety of purposes. These skills are not limited to the Language Arts block, but are essential tools for all areas of the curriculum. Similarly, communication as a mathematics tool is considered an essential standard by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Phyllis and David Whitin write: "Writing and talking are ways that learners can make their mathematical thinking visible. Both writing and talking are tools for collaboration, discovery, and reflection." (2). Effective mathematics problem solving often depends on understanding of key mathematical terms. This is especially true in solving story problems, which can be difficult even for students who are very proficient with mathematical procedures. Linking art, stories, and math concepts can help students construct meaning and improve mathematics problem solving.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • General classroom materials (blank white paper, crayons, pencils, construction paper for mounting or making covers for books, and chart paper and markers for shared writing)

  • List of read-aloud books that incorporate mathematics vocabulary and/or concepts into their stories [Note: Suggestions for discussion of books on the list are available at the lesson author's Website.]




Before launching into this activity, spend several days reading aloud to students from books which portray mathematical concepts and/or use mathematical vocabulary. Discuss the books informally, paying special attention to key mathematical terms and phrases that refer to quantities, sizes, and comparisons (e.g., any number words, big, small, more, less, some, many, huge, bigger than, smaller than, etc.). Begin charting this math vocabulary after each reading, adding to the same chart each day.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • identify and use key mathematical terms in discussion and in writing.

  • draw a series of pictures telling a sequential story which depicts objects being added or taken away.

  • tell and write a sequential story which corresponds to their drawings.

  • state or write equations that correspond to their stories.

Session One

  1. Gather students together. Review the list of math vocabulary words and ask for any additions. If no chart has been started, make one now with the students to use as a reference when they do their writing. If students have difficulty generating a vocabulary list, refer back to the stories which were read aloud; read excerpts to help students identify math words.

  2. When the chart has several words on it, have students review the list of words and talk about and give examples of the meaning of each one. Leave the vocabulary chart posted on the wall for subsequent sessions, and add the words to the classroom word wall, if there is one.

Session Two

  1. Post four or five sheets of chart paper (or any oversized paper) side by side. Gather students together. Tell them that everyone is going to participate in telling a story with pictures, and that the story will have some math in it. Begin by generating ideas as to who will be in the story and what they might be doing.

  2. Ask for a volunteer to suggest a character. Ask another volunteer to suggest a setting and a third to tell what the character is doing.

  3. Then ask prompting questions of the students to make sure a number of objects is established. For example, if the story is about a boy and a girl on a picnic, you might ask what they will be eating and how many food items they have. On the first sheet of paper, draw a picture to show the beginning of the story, including the character(s), setting, and the objects in question.

  4. Continue by asking students what might happen next. Encourage them to use words from the math vocabulary list to describe the objects. Questions could include:
    How do the characters get more or less items?
    How many more?
    How many less?
  5. As students develop the sequence of the story, keep in mind that this is essentially an expanded story problem, so it should be simple and kept to four or five steps/pages. Draw a picture on each chart paper that shows what happens, with special attention to the objects that increase or decrease.

  6. When the story is complete, have students retell it, using math vocabulary and focusing on the quantities of objects and how they change. As they retell the story, write the corresponding text at the bottom of each chart paper with a marker. Then, with a highlighter, highlight all the math vocabulary which dictates changing quantities of objects. Have students read the story a third time, and create an equation that represents what happens in the story. Leave the story posted on the wall for reference for the next session.

Session Three

  1. Gather students together to review the illustrated story. Inform them that they will be working in groups to create their own stories. Remind them that they want to draw pictures to tell a simple story that will be about adding or taking away things.

  2. Have students brainstorm some ideas about who the stories might be about, where they might take place, and what the people might be doing. Give each group four sheets of paper to draw their collaborative stories.

  3. As students work, circulate among the groups to ask questions and assist when needed. As groups finish their illustrated stories, have them "read" them aloud. If the story shows no increase or decrease of something, help them work that into the story by inserting an extra page or adding to a drawing.

  4. When stories are complete, have students write them out, using a shape or border template at Shape Book Pattern where they can write and print out a separate page of text for each illustrated page.

Session Four

  1. Have each student group read their story aloud to the class. After they read each story, ask questions about addition and subtraction of objects in the stories, write the equations that represent the stories on the board, and talk about the math symbols used. Students can then write equations at the top or bottom of pages with corresponding text.

  2. Each group then uses their text and drawings to make a book. These can be big books, with pages mounted onto construction paper and then bound, or pages can be stapled together with construction paper covers. Keep the books available in the classroom for students to read on their own.


  • Instead of having students draw first, have each group plan out their entire story using the Stapleless Book Planning Sheet and complete the stories with the Stapleless Book. After they print it out, make a copy for each student in the group so they can illustrate their own.

  • Have each student draw and write their own story on index cards and make an Index Card Book out of the story, following directions at the Making Books Website.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Assessments, formal and informal, can be determined based on your students' needs. Examples include

  • student participation in whole-group shared writing.

  • quality of the generated vocabulary list.

  • quality of content in student books, especially relationship of drawings to text to equations.

  • student participation in discussion about their stories.
Andrea Kennedy
K-12 Teacher
I used this idea with my 7th graders. We started by reading several math adventure stories by Cindy Neuschwander. I encouraged them to choose math concepts they struggled with, such as integers or fractions, and create stories to help themselves and others understand the concepts better.
Andrea Kennedy
K-12 Teacher
I used this idea with my 7th graders. We started by reading several math adventure stories by Cindy Neuschwander. I encouraged them to choose math concepts they struggled with, such as integers or fractions, and create stories to help themselves and others understand the concepts better.
Andrea Kennedy
K-12 Teacher
I used this idea with my 7th graders. We started by reading several math adventure stories by Cindy Neuschwander. I encouraged them to choose math concepts they struggled with, such as integers or fractions, and create stories to help themselves and others understand the concepts better.

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