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Elementary Math Journal Ideas that Get Kids Writing in Math in 2023

Integrating writing and math is critical in twenty-first century classrooms. Elementary students not only need to be able to accurately solve grade level problems, but also be able to explain their thinking and strategies both orally (e.g. number talks) and in writing (e.g. math journal).

Mathematical writing is a great way to encourage students to make sense of concepts and skills, think critically, make connections, explain thinking, communicate ideas, practice literacy skills, self-assess, and reflect on learning.

Implementing a math journal routine in your elementary classroom is one way you can ensure your students are regularly writing in math and are continuing to grow as both mathematicians, writers, and critical thinkers.

girl solving math problem using an abacus

This blog post will answer the following questions:

  • Why is writing in math important?
  • How do I get my students to write during math time?
  • What are some tips for supporting writers during math?
  • What are math journals?
  • How do I write good math journal prompts?
  • What are some examples of math journal prompts?
  • What can I use a math journal for besides writing?

Why is Writing in Math Important?

Writing in math, specifically math journaling, is important because it gives children the opportunity to make sense of concepts and skills, think critically, make connections, explain thinking, communicate ideas, practice literacy skills, self-assess, and reflect on their learning.

math journal prompts, printable worksheets and notebook cover

15 Ways to Get Students Writing During Math

Read below to learn about some of the many ways to improve math literacy and get students writing in math.

1. Daily Prompts

Give students a prompt at the beginning of class that asks them to make connections, justify rules, explain a procedure, etc. and have them write down their response.

2. I Think, I Notice, I Wonder

Pose a problem to students and ask them to fill in a graphic organizer with three categories: 1) I Think, 2) I Notice, 3) I Wonder.

3. Think-Write-Share

Pose a problem to the class. Have the students solve it and write how they solved it. When the time is up, invite students to share their strategy and explanation with a partner.

4. Read and Write

Read aloud a text or provide students with a text to read and have them respond in writing to a prompt based on the text.

5. Shared Writing

Work together as a whole group to communicate information about concepts, procedures, or strategies on chart paper.

6. Alphabet Book

Make an alphabet book as a class based on math vocabulary.

elementary student writing in a math journal

7. Take Notes

Invite students to take notes during the lesson by writing down procedures, definitions, etc.

8. Make Notes

Ask students to list the main points of a lesson and make connections between new concepts and previously-learned concepts.

9. Math Dictionary Entries

Students write vocabulary words and definitions in a notebook that they can refer back to.

10. Concept Maps

Ask students to create a graphic organizer to help them make sense of a math concept.

11. Technology

Utilize a class website or online tool to facilitate questions and discussions.

12. Act as the Teacher

Ask students to write their own story problem and share it with a classmate to solve.  A second option is to have students create quizzes for each other.

13. Exit Ticket

Ask students to complete this formative assessment to determine their understanding of the lesson.

14. Assessment Reflection

When students get an assessment back after it is graded, ask them to analyze the problems they got incorrect and explain in writing what they did wrong and what they should have done instead.

15. Math Journal

Give students opportunities for journaling where they can reflect on and explore essential questions, big ideas, daily lessons, prompts, etc.

elementary teacher helping 2nd graders with math journals

Tips for Supporting Writers During Math

  • Write or post related vocabulary words in a spot where all students can see them. This blog post all about math vocabulary may be helpful!
  • Explain who the students are writing to (teacher, a younger student, etc.).
  • Encourage students to share their thinking and ideas with a partner before they begin to write.
  • Invite struggling writers to formulate their idea with an adult in the classroom before they start their math journaling.
  • Circulate around the room and support students as needed.
  • Inspire students to use pictures, symbols, numbers, and words to add details to their writing through modeling those strategies yourself.

What is a Math Journal?

A math journal, also commonly referred to as a math notebook, is an ongoing and chronological record of what students are learning in math.  It is a tool that helps students reinforce and reflect on their understanding of math concepts and skills. 

Not only are math journals beneficial for students, but they are also beneficial for teachers too.  Teachers can use math journals as a formal or informal assessment to monitor student progress and understanding.

Get these Math Journals!

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2nd and 3rd grade teacher supporting students in math

How to Write a Good Math Journal Prompt

A math journal prompt should be open-ended and an opportunity for students to…

  • think deeply about a concept or skill
  • problem solve
  • learn from the question
  • deepen their understanding of a concept or skill
  • discover new ideas and connections
  • explain their thinking
  • reflect on their learning
  • assess their own understanding and knowledge
elementary students writing in math journals

3 Examples of Math Journal Prompts

Read the 3 math writing prompt examples below to get ideas for writing your own prompts for your students’ math notebooks:

Math Journal Prompt Example 1:

Math Writing Prompt: I have 5 coins in my pocket. Their sum is greater than $1. Give me 3 possible combinations.

Sample Answer: 5 quarters, 4 quarters and 1 dime, 4 quarters and 1 penny

Math Journal Prompt Example 2:

Math Writing Prompt: What are 5 things you know about the number 12?

Sample Answer: The number 12 is an even number; 12 has 1 ten and 2 ones; The number can be divided evenly into 2, 3, 4, and 6 groups; It has 2 digits; It is the sum or the doubles fact 6 + 6

Math Journal Prompt Example 3:

Math Writing Prompt: Prove 3 + 2 = 5.

Sample Answer: I know 3 + 2 = 5 because I know the sum of the doubles fact 2 + 2 is 4 and 1 more than 2 is 3 so 2 + 2 + 1 = 5. I just used the doubles plus one strategy!

elementary math writing journals

10 Things to Use a Math Journal For Besides Writing

Student math journals do not require students to solely write explanations in paragraph form in them.  They can be filled with drawings, photographs, newspaper clippings and more. Here is a list of ideas that you can incorporate into your student math notebook center:

  1. articles about famous mathematicians
  2. diagrams
  3. drawings
  4. math vocabulary words and definitions
  5. newspaper clippings related to math
  6. photographs of student work
  7. photographs of students solving problems
  8. sketches of symmetric objects
  9. student reflections
  10. tracings of math manipulatives

Math Resources for 1st-5th Grade Teachers

If you need printable and digital math resources for your classroom, then check out my time and money-saving math collections below!

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5th grade math membershipElementary Math Resource Collection

Try These Math Writing Prompt Resources for Free!

We would love for you to try these math journal writing prompts with your students. They offer students opportunities to reflect on their learning through journaling and serve as a great consistent math center during Guided Math. You can download math journal worksheet examples specific to your grade level (along with lots of other math freebies) in our free printable math resources bundle using this link: free printable math activities for elementary teachers.

Check out my math journal resources!

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