Number Stories

The kindergarteners explored number stories today. Building on our math lesson from yesterday that integrated Jan Brett’s story The Mitten,  we had a little fun with a mitten of our own. I had the student sit in a circle on the carpet and began to tell them a story, using a white mitten and some math manipulatives to help illustrate.

“Once there were six bears who were very cold. They found a place to keep warm inside a white mitten. Soon three cats heard a lot of commotion and wanted to see what was happening inside the mitten. The bears were having a party! The cats joined the three bears. How many animals were there all together in the mitten?”

The students right away shouted, “There are nine animals!” I asked them if the words in the number story were telling us to add animals or to take animals away. They agreed that we were adding. I asked the students which words in my story gave them a clue as to whether to add or subtract. They said that the word joined was their clue. Correct!

Next, I gave the students a different scenario….”There were seven bears snuggling in the mitten to stay warm. Suddenly, the big bear coughed and POP! Out flew three bears! How many bears were left?” I again asked the students whether we were adding or subtracting….they recognized that the story I had told was indeed a subtraction story and that the words were left were the clues that told them so.

Time for independent practice! Each student had the opportunity to write and illustrate both an addition and subtraction number story. Look at how they came out!

Aren’t these great?!

Gingerbread Math

One of the concepts we explore in math is number stories (or word problems as I knew them when I was in school.) Oh, how word problems terrified me….to the point that in high school algebra, when I came to a word problem on an exam, I would simply skip them!! (Now, I know that doesn’t show perseverance or determination!)

In kindergarten, we explore number stories several different ways. First, I make number story examples meaningful, using students’ own names and characteristics, classroom events, and other real-life situations. We start by reading the number story and identifying any important words. We act them out. We illustrate them. Then we tie numbers and math symbols to our number stories.

Today we explored number stories using paper gingerbread cookies that students could manipulate. Take a peek:


Students each drew two jars. We discussed that “altogether” means we are adding the items together. Therefore 5+5=10.

For this next one, students suggested they draw two friends. They gave three cookies to each friend, because equal means dividing the cookies so each person has the same amount. But then a student realized that the number story said “How can WE share them equally?” meaning the baker is included in the sharing!


 So we added a third person to the mix….making the equation 2+2+2=6.

According to Everyday Math, “Number stories provide a natural bridge from spoken to mathematical symbolic language. Children cross this bridge in stages, at first using everyday language to tell number stories, then gradually incorporating mathematical language, and ultimately using mathematical symbols to model their stories.” It is my goal to make students feel so comfortable using mathematical language and symbols, that when they are faced with number stories in high school, they feel confident in solving them.