Before our recent Mathematics input, I had never considered using stories as a way of exploring mathematical language and concepts. I’m sure most people would agree that stories are first and foremost thought of as something linked to literacy and language. However, after reading the well-known Dr Seuss book, “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish” I was amazed by how many mathematical concepts could be covered if this short story was unpicked.
The first obvious concept that is addressed by this book is counting but there are also many others. Below I have highlighted the main mathematical concepts that could be explored through this book, based on the mathematical language used by the author.
Counting, Addition and Subtraction:
- One, two, three, four etc.
- Take (subtraction, numbers less than)
- More (addition, numbers greater than)
- Every day
- Was (concept of the past)
- Long (length of time)
- In/out (looking at 3D shapes and volume/depth)
There are many props/ resources that can be used to aid the exploration of these different concepts in a story telling setting. As this story covers many different aspects I am going to focus on Counting, Addition and Subtraction. One great resource to help children in the early years with these concepts are counting bears (see image).
As this story talks about different colours, the bears allow children to see that counting can be done with objects that look the same but also objects that are different. Instead of “One fish, two fish” you could say “One bear, two bears…” and start by counting on. If the children are ready to move on to counting backwards the bears can be counted back into the tub. Language such as “Take two bears away” or “Add one more” can link the language used in the story directly to the activity.
Number lines are also great resources for counting , adding and subtracting as they act as a good visual for children. Without these visual representations, counting can be seen as quite an abstract concept and some children simply start by learning the number sequence 1-10 before seeing the relevance of each number.
The type of question used to assess children’s understanding might be, “If I have three bears and add on four more bears, how many will I now have?” This models the kind of mathematical language that is expected and, depending on their answer, shows if a child has understood the concept or not.