Developing argument writing in math using crime scene investigations

Who would have thought Queenie’s claim that Arthur fell down the stairs would help students dissect word problems. Or that the case of the Lunchroom Murder could train students to become astute observers when problem solving.


I’m talking about using elements from Hillcock’s Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6-12, to develop mathematical practice #3: construct a viable argument and critique the reasoning of others. The book is an English teacher’s bible and this section (beginning on page 36) may help your students become better problem solvers.

The goal is for students to apply claim, evidence, and rules when constructing a math argument. After two-three lessons using crime scene investigations (taught either in math or language arts), students apply the skill when solving problems.

After modeling few crime scene examples, it was time to link this skill to math. So I gave this handout showing how to construct a similar argument in math. A second example has some elements missing so the students need to complete the missing sections. Then I gave a series of word problems for additional practice.

Now that you know what the heck I’m talking about,  here’s the road I took with the students.

Before jumping right in with the math connection, I handed out the Slip-or-Trip-Lesson.  We read it as a class, discussed the evidence, and learned how rules support the evidence when making a claim.

After listing the evidence and rules to support our claim we drafted a police report (Slip-or-Trip-Crime-Scene-Evidence).

Next it was time for students to work independently or in small groups. They developed their claim, evidence, and rules skills on the The-Lunchroom-Murder task.

Finally students linked the crime scene investigations with claim and evidence using Constructing-a-Viable-Argument-in-Math document.

If you give this a try please let me know if it works for you and your students. I think the process not only enhances reasoning skills it helps students to articulate their thought process.

UPDATED 6/28/16 and slightly revised to include direct links to documents.

Additional pre-algebra problems not explicitly referencing claim, evidence and reasoning are in the determining importance file.

5 thoughts on “Developing argument writing in math using crime scene investigations

  1. It’s great that you’re taking the time to help the students learn how to write about the math that they’re using. When I was in the classroom I used a slightly different approach, but the end result was the same: the students had to write to explain how they solved the problem.

    At first their explanations were very generic, “I multiplied 5 times 3 and got 15.” After a lot of modeling by me and other students, as well as talking about the qualities of a good explanation, I saw a lot of growth in my students’ writing. Now I would get an answer like, “I multiplied the number of packs (5) by 3 because there are 3 pencils in each pack. 5 x 3 = 15 so there are 15 pencils.” I love this because it shows that the students are able to go back and forth between the symbols and their meaning within a given situation.

    Even better, I saw tremendous improvement in my students’ reasoning about math problems. Since they had so much practice writing about what they were doing when they solved problems, they started paying more attention to the problems before they even started solving them.

    1. “Since they had so much practice writing about what they were doing when they solved problems, they started paying more attention to the problems before they even started solving them.” Slowing down, analyzing the process, and writing about it allows students to think about their thinking. It does take a lot of modeling but eventually they catch on. Thanks for your insights.

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