How to Teach Math Vocabulary

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. Everything from "square" to "derivative", teaching math vocabulary is ALWAYS part of the math classroom. are 5 tried and true strategies to effectively teach math vocabulary. 

1) Use Precise Language 

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

I started doing this a few years in to 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.”
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 math word 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 way 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.
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.  

Math Vocabulary Activities

5) Make it Fun

I love playing math vocabulary games to help my students learn the 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

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 :)

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Save these tips and ideas to your favorite classroom Pinterest board. Come back and reference them for ideas on how to teach math vocabulary.

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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