Stories to Build Your Math Community

teacher reading to students


Engaging students in their math community from the start is an important part of those first weeks of school. It builds trust and confidence in themselves and their peers, which sets them up for a place to take risks, increasing the opportunities for them to grow.

Over the years I taught, there were two books in particular that I used to help with this. Both helped begin shifting students’ thinking and identities within mathematics.

On a beam of light book cover

On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Burne

A beautiful and simple biographical picture book about Albert Einstein and how he became the insightful mathematician we know today.

This book was always the first book I read during our first math block together and an anchor for all the things we learned about being mathematicians the first week of school.

  • Before reading: Ask students what mathematicians do? Record.
  • During Reading: Ask “What do you notice? What do you think?” throughout. 
  • After reading: In a different color, record new words about what mathematicians do. Continue to add words throughout the year.


The Warlord's Puzzle book cover

The Warlord’s Puzzle by Virginia Pilegard

The warlord’s prized tile breaks into 7-pieces and a surprising character returns it back to its square shape. 

For this, I would read it and then challenge students to try to put the pieces back together. Then, as one person finds the solution, they have to help the others. For younger students, this would be their morning activity for around a week, for older students it works great at the end of the day:

  • Before Reading: Give students time to play with a 7-piece tangram set. 
  • During Reading:  Engage students throughout the book (you could even utilize it to talk about/review story structure). 
  • After Reading: Challenge students to work to make their 7-tangram pieces to a perfect square. Talk about perseverance, and learning from mistakes.

Outside of building students’ identities in mathematics and shifting their thinking, shared read-alouds with your students help build community, support vocabulary development and help students make connections between academic content and the real world. Bringing read-alouds into your math block can transform your community. And don’t forget – all students at any age love to be read aloud to.

If you’d like to learn more about math read-alouds check out these resources:

Listen to our podcast episode with TJ Jemison:



Order “Math by the Book” lessons from Heinemann Publishing.


Download a Math by the Book booklist!

Enjoy these first few days of school and feel free to reach out to chat math with me anytime at

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