Math Storytelling

As September—Literacy Awareness Month—ends, we have an opportunity to celebrate Math Storytelling Day on September 25th. Math Storytelling Day is a day to share real-life challenges that use math and ways to teach a student about a mathematical concept in an exciting and imaginative way. Ultimately, a math story is a word problem, which can be found in many classrooms, standardized tests, real world scenarios and stories.

And like all stories, there is a beginning, middle and end; however, there is also a problem to be solved. One example of a math story (without a beginning, middle and end—read the full book for the whole story!), is this word problem from my favorite childhood book, The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien.

“The three trolls had 123 pieces of gold. Tom had 15 pieces of gold more than Bert. Bert had 3 pieces fewer than Williams. How many pieces of gold did William have?” 1

Well, how many pieces of gold did William have?

Literary Connection

After you introduce this concept to your students, have them identify times they need to solve problems in their lives and write a short story based on those problems. Are they sharing a pizza with their friends after school? How many people get how many slices? Are they trying to figure out the quickest route from home to school? How many hours do they need to work at their part-time job to afford a new pair of sneakers? This way you can incorporate writing skills with logic and problem-solving skills.

On Your Own

A classic math story is called ‘Hilbert’s Infinity Hotel’. This story discusses how to use several different algebraic principles in order to fill a hotel that has infinite rooms with infinite guests. Check it out here and enjoy!

P.S. William has 38 pieces of gold. What strategy did you use to figure this out?

Written by Warren Basla, Impact Manager for the Comcast NBC10 Telemundo Team at Woodrow Wilson Middle School. Warren has been developing and implementing math trainings at City Year Philadelphia for the past two years.


1. Gaskins, Denise. “Hobbit Math: Elementary Problem Solving 5th Grade.” Web blog post. Let's Play Math!, 7 June 2010.
Photo Credit: Chocolate Coins by William Warby, 2014


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