LearnBop Community Blog

How to Engage Math Students in Essay Writing: Six Approaches to Get Students Thinking Differently about Mathematics

Posted by Jessica Mills - Guest Author

Jun 26, 2015 10:50:00 AM

As you know, mathematics is a very complex subject. Learning it requires more than just memorizing sets of facts and examples. If students are not able to process their ideas before, during, and after learning has taken place, they will have trouble really improving their conceptual framework.

This processing can take place orally, through discussion; mentally, through thinking back over the work and learning done; or in writing, by explaining in a narrative form the process they just went through. Ideally, all of these modes are used by a teacher, so that students have multiple opportunities to cement new knowledge, and also so that students who learn in different ways can have their unique learning styles supported.

This might sound funny, but mathematicians don’t just scribble mathematical notations on chalkboards until arriving at a profound new theorem, or answer to a problem. In addition to doing math, mathematicians are also required to write clearly and effectively. How else could they explain their ideas to people who don’t have their specific skill sets—or, in some cases, even to those who do?

In addition to these considerations, mathematicians also need to keep a complete record of their ideas and work, and be in a position where they can communicate their findings to the world. The list below takes a look at some of the strategies that can be used to engage math students in essay writing.


This is a writing strategy that a teacher uses throughout or at the end of a lesson to engage students to develop big and better concepts and ideas. In mathematics, you can use these strategies to foster this kind of engagement.

1. CALLA Strategy.

The Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach is a strategy designed to provide students with support when it comes to learning content as well as learning how to learn. What the strategy demands is that the students read and record whatever it is that the problem is requesting.

Students are guided throughout the process to a particular solution by asking them to solve, check and explain every step of their work. This process demands that students write about the things that made the problem difficult, or any other strategies that helped them to solve the problem. This strategy will provide support for ESL learners in content and learning strategies, and go ahead to help them get organized. It also gives students a powerful tool for any kind of future learning endeavor, which is the ability to self-reflect and improve their own learning process.

2. Column Notes Strategy

The Column Notes strategy involves the double and at times the triple entry journal as a column graphic organizer. Students are record important and factual information from a lecture and/or text on the left hand side of the column, and the right hand side is normally used by students to record and process their personal responses and information.

The students can use the third column for the triple journal to summarize their understanding of concepts. This strategy is basically used to help students recall information, gives them an opportunity to clarify information, helps them make personal connections with the gathered new information, and encourages them to analyse and question information that is presented. 

3. Compare and contrast strategy. 

This strategy has students collect information relating to two or more mathematical concepts. The student will then be required to record the key attributes on a two column graphic organizer that will clarify both the similarities and the differences. This strategy ultimately encourages students to examine the systems being compared analytically, and helps them to clarify any information that they provide in a personal manner that will make the most sense to their own unique learning process. 

4. Content definition map strategy.

The Concept Definition Map Strategy is basically a visual representation whereby examples, vocabulary terms, and sub-concepts are related to a main topic. This goes to help students make connections that are in existence between the ideas, gives the students amazing opportunities for review, provides them with tools that allows them to reflect on the changes in their understanding, and gives them the opportunity of accessing prior knowledge.   

5. The Frayer model of concept development. 

In this strategy, students are required to use a variety of modes and methods including: oral, written, and visual content to develop not only a personal but an in-depth understanding of some of the key mathematical concepts and terms as a whole. The strategy was generally developed to help students gain a better understanding of concepts.

The most intriguing aspect about the model is that it relies on a graphic organizer help with the understanding of the concepts. The concepts are explained to you through definitions, characteristics, and examples. 

6. The Gist strategy. 

The General Interactions between Schemata and Text is a strategy that involves a step by step process of summarizing text materials. This strategy in particular is very useful for students who have difficulties putting what they have read into their own words.

What students are required to do for the GIST Strategy is to restate their main ideas from mathematics texts while at the same time omitting specific examples that have been used to illustrate concepts. This strategy basically helps students gain a better comprehension of mathematics text, allows them to process new information, and establishes connections with their own ideas while providing students with a structure for identifying and remembering some of the key ideas covered.

Any of these strategies can help to engage a math student into writing. You should explore them all, and adopt the one—or ones!—that prove most effective in supporting your students.

You can still combine two or even more of these approaches to enhance your chances of supporting every individual student. But maybe the best way to engage students into writing is rewards—for instance, by offering some kind of prize or reward to those students who participate, or who do well on a given assignment. You can also show students how easily they can earn some extra money by participating in different writing contests and competitions (this has been working with my students!). 

A note on guest posts: Our community blog is a place for educators from all walks of life to share opinions and exchange ideas. Simply because a post appears here does not necessarily mean we endorse the views presented therein. That being said, we'd love to hear what you think! Please post any questions or comments below, and we'll get right back.

About the Author

Jessica_Mills_headshotJessica Millis is an educator and freelance blogger. She works as an essay editor and writer at EssayMama.com – a service that connects students and writers all over the world. Follow EssayMama on Facebook, G+ and Twitter!

Topics: Resources, Teaching & Learning

backbone_and_learnbopThousands of K-12 students use our automated tutoring system to improve math proficiency.

Try LearnBop for Free


Want to learn more about how LearnBop's step-by-step system supports math learning?

Attend a Webinar

EdTech Update