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• Caroline Farkas

3 Ways to Make Math Visual for Students in Upper Elementary

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

Research shows us over and over again how important it is for students to have visual aids in mathematics. It is so important that this month’s NCTM Mathematics Teacher: Learning and Teaching PK-12 even lists visuals as one of the top 5 ways to make word problems meaningful! Not only is this crucial for your typical learner, but visuals are essential for students who speak English as their second language and students with learning disabilities. So how can you accomplish this? Here are my top 3 ways to turn that math problem into a picture.

1. Use blocks, cubes, dice, or random objects

Students sometimes need a tangible object in order to count or make sense of a problem. In my classroom, I loved having a whole set of manipulatives that students could choose from in order to show their thinking. Some of my favorite manipulatives are linking cubes and base ten blocks. Even if you do not have a ton of math manipulatives (because let’s be honest, they can get pricey!) you can use things that are laying around your house or classroom. Objects like pennies, beads, or shredded-up paper make great manipulatives!

2. Draw a picture

Channel your inner Picasso and paint a giant mural on the wall! Just kidding- your picture doesn’t have to be perfect or extravagant in any way! Students need someone to show them how to practice that wonderful mathematical practice of “model with mathematics”. I love drawing a picture with students, especially for word problems. If we are solving a problem about Susie bringing cupcakes to school, I would draw those cupcakes to show whatever was happening in the problem. As adults, we might be able to visualize 13 cupcakes, but students often do not have this skill yet. Your drawings do not have to be perfect! Sometimes I think that is better because it shows students that their art skill level does not matter.

3. Find resources that are visually appealing

There are so many wonderful resources for teachers out there that can help students make math visual! Some of my online favorites are didax.com, and toy theatre. You can also create your own visual resources or print out my illustrations to help students. This is the exact reason why I created Doodles and Digits. I felt that there could be even more math visuals for students and teachers. Check out my Teacher’s Pay Teacher’s Store for math clip art, coloring books, and more!

What are your favorite ways to make math visual for your students? I would love to hear them!