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Lesson Plan

Talking, Writing, and Reasoning: Making Thinking Visible with Math Journals

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Talking, Writing, and Reasoning: Making Thinking Visible with Math Journals

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

Phyllis Whitin

Phyllis Whitin

Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan

David Whitin

David Whitin

Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan


National Council of Teachers of English



Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



By talking, writing, and reasoning in math journals, students shift the emphasis of their work from finding the “right” answer to a metacognitive exploration of how their problem-solving works. Students begin by exploring their own attitudes and feelings about math by responding to open-ended prompts in their math journals. They are then introduced to the magic triangle puzzle and invited to talk and write about their predictions for how to solve the puzzle, drawing comparisons with prediction in reading and journal writing for language arts. Students then work in small groups to find multiple solutions to the puzzle and write their solutions, strategies, and other observations in their math journals. Next, they examine their notes from the group work and look for evidence of positive attitudes and successful problem solving. Finally, they revisit their initial journal entry and assess how and why their attitude has changed.

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Logistics of Mathematics Journals: Frequently Asked Questions: This teacher resource answers common questions about using math journals with students.

Getting Started with Math Journals: This teacher resources describes how to get students started with math journals, stressing the importance of using puzzles, open-ended prompts, and other questions that invite more than single right or wrong answers.

Math Journal Prompts about Attitudes and Dispositions: These open-ended prompts can be used during any part of your mathematics curriculum.

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Features that contribute to an effective community of writers also apply to mathematics classrooms, where students use writing and talking "to make their mathematical thinking visible," according to Phyllis and David Whitin (Math 2). In positive environments, children are able to take risks, share tentative ideas, build on the thoughts of others, postpone judgment, and be perseverant, even when problems arise. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics states that to communicate mathematically, students need "to think, question, solve problems, and discuss their ideas, strategies, and solutions" (NCTM 18), and to "listen to and understand conjectures and explanations offered by [others]" (NCTM 57). Open-ended mathematical tasks, such as the Magic Triangle Puzzle, provide a challenge to all learners, but at the same time are accessible to children with a wide range of expertise ("Promoting Communication"). Engaging in collaborative problem solving and recording, and making strategies public help establish routines for using mathematics journals.

Further Reading

Whitin, Phyllis, and David Whitin. 2000. Math Is Language Too: Talking and Writing in the Mathematics Classroom. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Read more about this resource


Whitin, Phyllis & Whitin, David J. "Promoting Communication in the Mathematics Classroom." Teaching Children Mathematics 9.4 (December 2002): 205-211.


National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 2000. Overview of Standards for Grades Pre-K-12. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

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