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.
WRITING EQUATIONS USING MENTOR TEXTS
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:
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!
WRITING EQUATIONS AFTER READING ART
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.
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.
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:
Rooted in Strength: Using Translanguaging to Grow Multilingual Readers and Writers by Laura Ascezni-Moreno and Cecila Espinoza
Nawal is an educator, literacy consultant and writer based out of Chicago, IL. Nawal worked as a classroom teacher, literacy coach and curriculum developer in Brooklyn and Chicago before launching NQC Literacy in 2014. She and her team support schools and districts by facilitating professional development and coaching around a holistic, balanced approach to literacy instruction: always looking through lenses of cultural-sustainability, inclusion and equity.
Nawal earned a Bachelor of English from the University of Michigan, a Master of Teaching from Brooklyn College, and a Master of Journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. She won a New Jersey Press Association Award for her international reporting and transitioned into education as a New York City Teaching Fellow. She is the proud daughter of immigrants and her role as a mother to four multiethnic, multilingual kids shapes her approach as an educator. You can find Nawal in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood or on Twitter at @NQCLiteracy.