Making Connections in Math Through Reading

counting grain of rice

Making Connections in Math Through Reading – A Million Grains of Rice

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We need to make changes in the way we teach students math. A comparison of state standardized test scores show that test scores a leveling off or are flat State Mathematics Comparisons 2000 – 2009 (National Center for Education Statistics). During the early part of the decade our students made great strides in improving their test scores. This appears to be due to an increased emphasis on math in schools; a dependence on rote memorization of facts and direct instruction.

Now there needs to be another reform in the way students learn math by using project-based teaching and learning strategies. This integrates problem-solving which is a critical skill that students need in mathematics. The use of reading strategies that incorporate project-based learning, helps set a situation in which math is learned. These circumstances help students understand that math is more relevant to their own world – making math personal.

Math Lesson Integrating Reading – Use the book “How Much is a Million” by David M. Schwartz


Ask the Students:

  • How much a million grains of rice really is and what they think it looks like?
  • How long it would take to count to a million?
  • How long they think it would take to count one million grains of rice?
  • How much a million grains of rice would weigh?
  • How they would go about counting a million grains of rice?


  • Students (in groups):
  • Count the rice grains in a cup of rice (150–200 grains).
  • Weigh their cups of rice – subtracting the weight of the cup.
  • Records their data in a data table for the whole class to see (e.g., draw a chart on the board or poster paper, or enter the data into a spreadsheet).
  • Estimate the total number of grains of rice that have been counted so far and the total weight.
  • Add the estimates to the data.
  • Add up the total number of grains and compare the actual number to the estimates, along with the weight.

More Questions

Hold up a 2 pound package of rice.

Ask the Students:

  • How many more cups would they need to count in order to reach 1 million grains?
  • To estimate how many grains of rice are in the package?
  • To estimate the number of 2 pound packages of rice needed to equal one million grains of rice?
  • To calculate the number of 2 pound packages needed. (The answer is around 31 packages)?

After stacking the 31 packages rice the students can visualize how many grains of rice it takes to make a million. They also have concrete evidence of what one million grains of rice looks like.

Try using this same activity with other math trade books, such as: “If You Hopped Like a Frog“: by David M. Schwartz and illustrated by James Warhola – ratio and proportions. “One Grain of Rice” by Demi – villager in a developing country trying to feed her village.

This lesson makes the necessary connections that students need to make between project-based learning, problem solving, numbers and operation, measurement, data analysis and probability, reasoning and proof, communication, and representation. These are skills necessary to help change math and help students score better on standardized testing.