multilingual · rehearsal · translanguaging · writing about reading · writing workshop

Reading + Talk + Writing = Innovative Expression Opportunities!

Looking for ideas to spice up writing through the end of the year? One way to keep writing interesting and fun right now is with the writing of life equations, supporting students in finding phrases to add together to capture small moments, experiences or feelings in their lives. Word equations have great potential for getting-to-know you conversations at the start of community-building, too.

Writing life equations allows for students to creatively express feelings and ideas while also playing with math concepts, language and image. They can be used for socio-emotional check ins with students, or as responses to reading art and as a story-telling device. Think: Monday morning + rain = bad mood or ice cream + sunshine = joy! End of year + pandemic + playful writing ideas = more energy! 

This strategy offers a powerful opportunity for students to:

  • play with language while connecting to math operations, distilling their understanding into simple phrases of power. 
  • learn new ways to express themselves while broadening their understanding of how we can tell stories, an essential to keeping students engaged. 
  • encourage translanguaging and inclusion of home languages in equation-writing.

Particularly for multilingual learners, facilitating the writing of life equations supports engagement with fun, allowing for additional pathways for participation, creation and natural insertion of other languages. The equations need not feel “correct,” but rather, it’s more about a fun new way to compose. 


This Plus That by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is a picture book that combines experiences with little nuggets across pages in equations that cleverly describe a moment, an idea or share a feeling. There are examples from all parts of life for kids to understand: yes + no = maybe; red + blue = purple; smile + wave = hello; birds + buds = spring. Some of the equations are factual. 

But the book’s equations get more complicated throughout, with equations like good days + bad days = real life and chores divided by everyone = family. I love when the equal sign includes a line to negate the phrase, as with mumbling + toe staring does not equal polite and blaming + eye rolling does not equal a sincere apology. Another mentor to use is Snowman – Cold = Puddle by Laura Purdie Salas, which uses the same concepts.

After reading aloud the text, teachers might ask that students share by talking about equations they could write. To brainstorm aloud: 

  • Think of a moment from this morning (ie getting dressed).
  • Think of an activity you love to do (ie playing soccer).
  • Think of a time you had fun with a loved one (ie dance party with cousins).
  • Describe your favorite food (ie rice + stew = dinner) 
  • Listen to a recording of a 4th grader sharing potential ideas to write equations about here.
    A second grader generates a list of word equations.

    Made with Padlet
    Made with Padlet
    This Padlet shows an example of students writing equations while translanguaging with Spanish.

    After time orally rehearsing ideas for writing life equations, allow students to try it out alphabetically on paper. Writing equations with images and drawings alone is also quite fun! 


    Analyzing images for the story they tell, and asking students to name aloud what they notice and see, allows for students to build critical thinking skills. In our classrooms in recent weeks, we’ve been looking at beautiful picture books and illustrations, asking ourselves what equations we could write to capture the story or information.

    Questions to prompt equation writing after reading art: 

    • What do you notice? 
    • What do you see? 
    • What parts can you add to tell this story?
    • What parts can you add to share this same information? 
    • How can you summarize what’s happening in the image with an equation?

    Here are examples of equations written virtually by students after reading images, with both a nonfiction and a fiction text. In the book by Anika Aldamuy Denise, Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, illustrator Paola Escobar gorgeously depicts the 1920s journey of an influential librarian, the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City, who carried the stories of her island to the bilingual children of the city. We’ve done this in classrooms with sticky notes while students read across images independently, too.

    Classroom example of word equations after reading a page from Planting Stories.

    In Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, Vashti Harrison illustrates the beautiful emotional bond between fathers and daughters in a celebration of hair and the importance of being oneself. Students can either hear the stories read in prose, as they are, and then write their own individual page equations, or they can read the images and tell the story on their own, using equations.

    A classroom example after reading a page of Hair Love.

    It has been rewarding and joyful to see students transfer this strategy in multiple directions, from building conversation to composing writing; from reading art and telling stories in simple phrases. In the middle grades, we’ve also used life equation writing as an emotional check in, ensuring that we circle back with students who may have written poignant equations like slammed doors + silent treatment = my house right now. Teachers I coach have used the life equation writing in morning meetings on notecards and then follow up with students who seem like they need additional support. As we conclude an especially challenging year, it is increasingly important to ensure multiple pathways for students to connect with adults who will be available to listen, and one way is by providing additional modes for expression. Above all, children + expression = essential.

    Further resources to bring into the classroom as inspiration for life equation writing: 

    Hair Love: Oscar-Winning Short Film (Full) Sony Pictures Animation

    Rooted in Strength: Using Translanguaging to Grow Multilingual Readers and Writers by Laura Ascezni-Moreno and Cecila Espinoza

    9 thoughts on “Reading + Talk + Writing = Innovative Expression Opportunities!

    1. I love so much about this blog post. First, it’s a great idea and it should really help students conceptually understand equations in a way that is often missed because we just straight into variables and not into conceptual understanding.

      I also love how you presented it including student work samples, student audio, and lots of resources and examples we can use to get started. Really well done, Nawal.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Oh, this is just fabulous! I wrote an equation poem every day for National Poetry Month on my blog and just love equation poems. I think they’re amazing for reflecting on factual content but also on emotional truths. I love what you’ve shared here…I’m off to add a link to my SNOWMAN-COLD=PUDDLE page on my site. Thank you!

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Thank you so much for the ideas in this post, Nawal! I just recently stumbled upon Amy Krause Rosenthal’s This Plus That, and I’ve been thinking about how I might use it with kids. Love the examples with ways to extend the concept across texts!


    Comments are closed.