A boy with puzzle pieces circling his head.

Poetry and math may seem like an improbable combination. But paired together, they can multiply students’ understanding and appreciation of both subjects. 


Students are often surprised when I share how much math I use when I write poems. Many poems have a certain number of syllables per line and lines per stanza. Thus, I often have to add and subtract while I’m rhyming to get the rhythm and cadence correct. 

Like math, many classroom-friendly poetry forms employ numeric formulas. For example, consider the formula for haiku: 

 5 + 7 + 5 = 17 

Three lines of seventeen syllables total, in the pattern of fives syllables for the first line, seven for the second line, and five for the third line.  (For some haiku-writing fun, check out these POETRY BOOST posst on BOOK-U,  VOCAB-U and HAIKU MENTOR TEXTS. )

Here's the formula for a cinquain

 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 = 11 

Eleven total words divided into one word in the first line (a noun), two words in the second line (adjectives), three words in the third line (participles), four words in the fourth line (a phrase about the subject), and one word in the fifth line (a synonym for the first word.) 

Without knowing it, many students are already doing math while writing poetry! 


Looking at math through a poetic lens can help math-shy students connect more emotionally to the subject. Poetry can link math concepts with imagination, story, and shared experiences. 

Two books I love using with students to combine math and poetry are Snowman – Cold = Puddle: Spring Equations, by Laura Purdie Salas (Illustrated by Micha Archer) and Counting in Dog Years, And Other Sassy Math Poems by Betsy Franco (illustrated by Priscilla Tey.) 
Cover of the picture book SNOWMAN - COLD = PUZZLE showing a melting snowman on a spring day.
Cover of Counting in Dog Years by Betsy Franco showing images of dogs and math symbols.
In Snowman – Cold = Puddle, Salas explores the reasons we see changes in spring through clever and imaginative combinations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division equations. For example…

An illustration of Laura Purdie Salas poem showing two children, one with light skin and one with brown, sniffing lilac bushes on a cloudy spring day.

Salas explains the magic of combining math and poetry in her author’s note, where she states, “In writing these equation poems, I began to notice things that I usually take for granted. I hope you notice how our world changes every day all around us.” Encourage your own students to notice the wonders in the world around them but writing their own equation poems. You can find more ideas for using Snowman – Cold = Puddle in the classroom and a template for writing equation poems on Laura Purdie Salas’s website HERE. 

In Counting in Dog Years, Betsy Franco takes a readers through “a surreal playground of calculated delights” with twenty poems that apply math concepts to everyday life. Many of Franco’s poems can be used as models for students to write their own poems to reinforce math concepts. 

For example, in Fractions of Me, the narrator explores identity through fractions: 

Illustration of Betsy Franco's poem Fractions of Me showing the profile of a human head divided into four parts.

After sharing the poem, have students write their own “Fractions of Me” poem in which they divide their identity into five separate parts, explaining what makes up each each 1/5th. 

With the help of these clever math-poetry books, you can make both subjects more accessible to students. Now that’s a winning equation!

Montage image showing a headshot of children's author and poet Michelle Schaub and four covers of her picture books Dream Big Little Scientists, Fresh-Picked Poetry A Day at the Farmers Market, Finding Treasure A Collection of Collections, and Kindness is a Kite String

About Michelle Schaub

Michelle Schaub is a language arts teacher and award-winning children's poet. She is the author of the picture book poetry collections Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market and Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections. She is also the author of two picture books in verse, Dream Big, Little Scientists and Kindness is a Kite String: The Uplifting Power of Empathy. Her poems appear in several anthologies, including  Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud.  Michelle loves visiting schools and speaking at conferences on the power of poetry to boost literacy. Find out more at:  https://www.michelleschaub.com/


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