How Math and Poetry Intersect


Both poetry and math require economy and precision—and each perspective can enhance the other. (Smithsonian)

Use our activity to introduce students to math, poetry, and nature.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

Poets do A LOT of counting on their fingers. Trust me.
Photograph by Jodi Cobb, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • One of the primary characteristics shared by many forms of poetry and math is the use of formulas. How does mathematics use formulas?
    • Formulas, usually in the form of equations, are the primary way mathematics is communicated. Mathematical formulas are rules describing the relationship between variables. Because formulas are stable, if a mathematician knows only some of the variables, they can often figure out what the missing ones are. (Algebra!)
      • Mathematical formulas are usually expressed as letters and symbols.


  • How does poetry use formulas?


JoAnne Growney’s blog Intersections—Poetry with Mathematics includes a broad range of poems with mathematical themes or built using mathematical rules. Try a few with your class!

  • Try a snowball!
    A snowball is a poem in which each line increases or decreases by one letter, word, or syllable. Here’s one with syllables.

about to
try this but I
wanted to see how
hard it would be
to complete.
It’s hard.

Try a geo-snowball!

uses layers and
to create


  • Try Fibs!
    Model your poems on the Fibonacci sequence: In a Fib, each line’s syllable or letter is the sum of the previous two lines: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 …

of writing
so many poems
in such a short amount of time.
Please read this blog and at least let me know it’s worth it.

Try geo-Fibs! Incorporate a geographic term or concept.

to find
the Arctic,
then continue west.
You might find the Northwest Passage
which eluded many sailors on their epic quests.


  • Try an N+7!
    Grab a dictionary and your favorite short poem. This is an instance where a big, booky dictionary is much, much more useful than a digital version. It’s also great for spelling and browsing. (We’re using American Heritage because it’s beautiful and the Nat Geo Library let us check it out even though it’s a reference book!)
  • An N+7 is a poem in which every major noun is replaced by the seventh noun following it in the dictionary.

Resume, by Dorothy Parker
Razors pain you,
Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you,
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful,
Nooses give,
Gas smells awful.
You might as well live.


Resume +7ish
Razor clams pain you,
The Riviera is damp,
Acidophilus milk stains you,
And Druids cause cramp.
Gunfights aren’t lawful,
Nordic folk give,
Gashes smell awful.
You might as well live.


Try a geo+7! Replace major nouns with geographic terms and concepts having the same number of syllables.

Climate changes,
Rivers are damp
Species have ranges
We protested stamps.
Guns can be lawful,
We need energy,
News can be awful.
Learn geography.



Smithsonian: How Poetry and Math Intersect

Nat Geo: Plankton Migration/Haiku Creation (haiku)

Nat Geo: Pining Away (sonnet)

Nat Geo: I Am From: Poem (cinquain)

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