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4 Simple Ways to Teach Math Vocabulary

Math is all about the numbers, right? Actually, it’s about way more than that! Math vocabulary is an important part of understanding math concepts and various math processes. Because math vocabulary helps with concepts and processes, it’s so important to explicitly teach it in your classroom, but how? Here are four simple tips for teaching math vocabulary in your classroom.

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But First, Why Teach Math Vocabulary

Math vocabulary is an important part of learning math. When students know words like add, sum, and subtract, they will have a foundation that will help them for years. Not knowing math vocabulary words will make learning harder for students to have fact fluency in the future and make teaching math concepts more difficult. In addition to helping students learn math, knowing these vocabulary words can help students on tests because we all know the tests use specific language. So, what can you do? You use these simple tips to explicitly teach math vocabulary!

Model Math Vocabulary in Student-Friendly Language

One simple tip for teaching math vocabulary is to use the correct terms when you are explicitly teaching math either as a whole group or in small groups. Modeling the correct use of math language will help students totally understand their meaning. For example, if you are talking about area, you want to be precise and talk about how area is the space inside a shape.

When modeling math vocabulary, it’s important to correct students when they don’t use the correct terms. For example, if you are talking about fractions, students should not say the “bottom number” or the “top number.” Instead, they should use their math vocabulary and say “denominator” and “numerator.” 

Explicitly Teach Math Vocabulary 

Consider how you teach math vocabulary in language arts. You are probably not just expecting students to know what they are without you explicitly teaching them. Of course you’re not! When you teach language arts vocabulary, you isolate them, sound them out, give the definition, talk about word parts, and then use context clues to help students understand what they mean. 

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If you’re doing all of this for your language arts vocabulary, you should be doing it when you teach math vocabulary as well! Just like language arts vocabulary, math vocabulary should be taught explicitly, defined, shown in context, and examples should be given to reinforce learning. 

A great tip for teaching math math vocabulary is using context clues in a way that students can relate to. For example, if you’re teaching perimeter, don’t just say, “it is the boundary around an object or shape.” Instead, tell students that it is the distance around an object or shape. Then, you can relate it to something students have experienced in their lives like the fence around a yard. 

When students can start to make connections to other instances in their lives, they remember the vocabulary. 

Put Up and Use a Math Word Wall 

Now, I know it’s not good to “put up walls” with your students, but having a math word wall (just like a sound wall or a word wall for vocabulary words) can be incredibly helpful. When you are teaching math vocabulary explicitly, you want to have something students can reference while they are learning. A math word wall can be tremendously helpful for this. 

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When you are creating your math word wall, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. First and foremost, make sure you are using kid friendly language. Using technical language can sometimes be overwhelming and then you’re teaching vocabulary within vocabulary. In addition, you want to make sure the font is large enough that students can read them from anywhere in the room. 

Secondly, you’ll want to make sure you are using images to help demonstrate the use of the math vocabulary. For example, with perimeter, I might have a picture of a backyard with arrows going around the fence. This helps provide some context for students and is especially helpful for students who need some differentiation. 

Create a Math Journal 

In addition to having a word wall in the room, a great tip for teaching math vocabulary is to have a place for students to help them “collect” their vocabulary. A math journal is perfect for this. In their journal students can write, illustrate, demonstrate, and practice math vocabulary. Then, they can use this tool as a reference throughout the year. They can even be a resource you might allow students to have in your math centers. 

You can also use math journals as a type of informal assessment by having them answer prompts in their journals at the end of the lesson. This can be used as an exit slip or as morning work to see what students retained. One way to have students that is to have students write in their journal the following: 

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  • Today in math I learned…
  • One problem I solved was…
  • Two ways to solve this problem are…

As students write about the vocabulary they just learned and how they solved problems using the math vocabulary,  they are reflecting on the new math concept as well as practicing their writing skills. 

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While your students might be struggling to understand and use correct, precise words when explaining their learning in math, explicit math vocabulary instruction can be a huge help! Throughout their years in school, students are going to hear these math vocabulary terms over and over again. When you give them a firm foundation now, they will be able to better navigate the math world in the future. 

Until Next Time…

Keep Being Educational Rock Stars 

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