Strategies to Teach Math Vocabulary in Middle School Math

Strategies to Teach Math Vocabulary

Mathematics is a language of it's own. No matter what grade you teach, there are always more math vocabulary words to teach when teaching new concepts.

 Everything from "square" to "derivative", teaching math vocabulary is ALWAYS part of the math classroom and all math concepts. Every grade level has math vocabulary terms that need to be taught.

Teaching math vocabulary helps improve understanding of word problems and your students' understanding of the math concepts. Teaching new words in student-friendly language is also a greay way to reach English language learners. Once students know the meaning of the words they can make sense of the question and make sense of the problem. 

Check out these 5 tried and true effectie strategies to teach math vocabulary. 

1) Use Precise Language 

Encourage precise language and correct vocabulary in your math classroom. The more your students hear the correct math vocabulary words being used, the more the words will become part of their vocabulary.

I started doing this a few years into teaching, and I could quickly see the effect on my students. They started sounding like mathematicians and it was music to my ears. 
For example, 0.3 is not “zero point three” it is “three-tenths.” 
Another example, ¼ is not “one over four” it is “one-fourth.”
Those are not “corners” on that square, those are “vertices."

That's the "denominator" not the "bottom number."
Use and encourage your students to use precise language, and they too will sound like mathematicians. 

2) Build Off What They Know

When introducing a new vocabulary term ask students what they already know about the word, shape, concept, etc... Use what they already know as a springboard for the new vocabulary word.

For example, if you wanted to introduce the word dilation. You might talk about what happens to your pupils when your eyes are dilated. 

For the word reflection, students may initially call it a mirror-image.  You could talk about what is a mirror-image, and how that connects to reflection. 

Building off what they already know helps your students make connections to current knowledge which helps them retain the information better. 

3) Graphic Organizers 

Graphic organizers are an effective strategy to reach all your students. I personally love using the Frayer model. Students write the math vocabulary word in the middle, then do a definition, visual, an example, and a non-example. This is also a great strategy for English language learners.  
Math Vocabulary Activities
4) Draw the Vocabulary Words

Have you ever tried having your students create a visual for the vocabulary word? 

Research has shown that drawing a vocabulary word improves recall regardless of the quality of the sketch.

Their drawing does not need to be anything fancy. Just let them sketch a drawing that represents the words for them. Seeing a number line, for example, is more powerful than the word definition of number line.

Having a visual of the vocabulary word on a math word wall is also a great teachnique.  

Math Vocabulary Activities

5) Make it Fun

I love playing math vocabulary games to help my students learn the new words. All students love playing games, and they get to learn and use the vocabulary while playing. Great math vocabulary games include
  • Pictionary
  • I have...Who has...
  • MATHO (like BINGO)
Math Vocabulary Games

These games can be played in small groups or as a whole class. If you are interested in checking out some math vocabulary games and activities for your classroom like the ones above then click on your grade level. Hoping to add more soon :)

In Summary

For vocabulary development, use precise mathematical terms while teaching, building off what your students' already know, using graphic organizers such as the Frayer model, drawing vocabulary words and displaying the mathematical vocabulary words on a math word wall and playing math vocabulary games are solid strategies to teach new math terms. 

Try out these math teaching strategies and notice how your students' understanding in word problems and increases as they understand the new vocabulary. These strategies are easy to incoporate into lesson plans and the games are fun for the students and a great way to engage your students in math class. 

Save This Article
Save these tips and ideas to your favorite classroom Pinterest board. Come back and reference them for ideas on how to teach math vocabulary and share with other math teachers. 

Five tried and true strategies to teach math vocabulary to your middle school math classroom.  Includes ideas for math vocabulary activities that reach all your math students, as well as math vocabulary games that will keep your middle school math students engaged in learning math vocabulary.  Read more on the blog.
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