Literacy in Mathematics – Creating Problem Solvers

Literacy in Mathematics

By developing students’ literacy, we aim to give all students the communication skills to become excellent problem solvers. To us, literacy in mathematics means developing a student’s structured speaking, vocabulary, writing, and reading to help them solve mathematical problems.

In this blog, I will share some practical advice my department uses to develop all students’ mathematics literacy. However, please do use the feedback form to share your approaches to developing students’ mathematics literacy.

Structured Speaking

Students who have difficulty writing in a mathematics lesson often find it easier to say what they think. Therefore, we provide opportunities for students to engage in dialogue that supports, deepens, and challenges their understanding.

These opportunities arise from questions posed throughout the various phases of the lesson. We use the starter as a reminder of essential keywords relevant to the topic. In the central part of the lesson, we use rich tasks to encourage discussion that will connect today’s learning to other aspects of mathematics. In addition, the plenary presents a deeper level of questioning, so students extend each other’s conceptual understanding.

By developing active listening skills and turn-taking, students learn how to question and challenge their peers’ understanding and the teacher’s explanations. We build on this by encouraging students to ask lots of questions.


The positive effects of an increased vocabulary and the ability to speak mathematics are essential to understanding. Therefore, we believe teaching a high language with definitions placed in context will help students internalize the concepts and terms they encounter.

We increase student’s vocabulary by writing the words on the board in a prominent position as we use them. Students use these keywords to create, refine and present their solutions to problems.


We develop student’s writing by modeling written methods within a clear writing frame on the teacher’s board. We leave completed examples on the board while students attempt a similar problem.

Students use mini whiteboards to form, refine and present a written record of their understanding of a problem. Teachers act on this formative assessment by addressing misconceptions or progressing onto deeper level questions.

We use faculty development meetings to share best practices with writing frames. For instance, we are using ratio notation to solve problems involving compound measures and percentages.


Teaching comprehension is a vital part of the mathematics curriculum. However, worded mathematical problems contain multiple concepts and text, including symbols, diagrams, tables, and units. Therefore, comprehending a wordy problem can often be more complex than applying mathematics.

Mathematics is not about learning facts or procedures. It is about teaching students how to interpret a mixture of symbols, diagrams, and keywords. Making these connections and understanding how they form part of a bigger problem is key to applying the learned mathematical skills.

We do this by:

  • Reading out the text to the class and highlighting keywords or phrases as they appear.
  • Modeling how to extract information from the text so the problem can be represented algebraically or as a diagram.
  • Providing a high level of exposure to these types of questions.

About Mr Mathematics

My name is Jonathan Robinson and I am passionate about teaching mathematics. I am currently Head of Maths in the South East of England and have been teaching for over 15 years. I am proud to have helped teachers all over the world to continue to engage and inspire their students with my lessons.

Relevant Links to Developing Literacy in Mathematics

Teaching Mathematics for a Growth Mindset

Teaching mathematics for a growth mindset is central to how I teach maths. It is always in the forefront of my mind when I plan a new lesson.

2 thoughts on “Literacy in Mathematics – Creating Problem Solvers

  1. Hi,

    I agree that developing literacy in mathematics is so important! Would you be able to provide us with some samples of word problems that you use with your students?

    Many thanks.

  2. Hello Susan
    Almost every lesson on the website includes worded, problem solving questions. They occur mostly in the plenary and in the latter questions on the independent learning slides.

    Please do check out the free resources page for a good sample.

    Hope this helps.

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