Being able to correctly solve a math problem, work an algorithm, or construct a geometric shape isn't enough in today's mathematical world. Students need to have a full and comprehensive knowledge of the math vocabulary associated with the concepts they are being taught. This will help to reinforce current learning, connect with other related concepts, and build a strong mathematical foundation. There are many things a teacher can do to boost students' math vocabulary, but here are our top five:
1. Speak the language!
Although math terminology may seem confusing to students, using the correct mathematical terms is crucial for students to fully understand math concepts. To avoid confusion, teachers should be careful to always use proper terms, and not substitute alternate vocabulary. Some vocabulary may seem daunting, especially for younger students, but using the proper terms consistently will help boost understanding and comprehension among related math concepts. This is so simple, but so very important. Also note that the terms you use with your students are likely to be different than the ones your students’ parents learned back in the day! Let parents and guardians know which terms and definitions your students are learning so that they can effectively help with homework.
2. Look it up!
There are many different online math dictionaries students can use to support their understanding of math vocabulary. These dictionaries provide an interactive way for students to explore new concepts, check definitions of unknown vocabulary terms, and further their understanding of math concepts. Some good sites to check out are Cool Math, A Maths Dictionary, and Math Words.
3. Write it down!
Not only can students explore online dictionaries to boost their math vocabulary, but they can also record vocabulary to create their own dictionary. Dedicating a portion of a math journal to mathematical vocabulary is a great way for students to record their understanding, explain their thinking, and make connections between concepts. Students can use their math journals to write the word and definition, draw a visual representation, and create webs that link other mathematical concepts and vocabulary words. This also helps them get into the valuable habit of note-taking.
4. Go to the wall!
Although many classrooms may already have math word walls displayed, the key is finding interactive ways to use math word walls effectively. Simply displaying the words isn't enough. Students need to interact with the word wall. Teachers should refer to the word wall often and use it in mathematical think alouds to model and boost understanding. Word wall words can also be moved to a pocket chart and displayed at your students' level so they can remove a card, use it in their work, and return it to the pocket without needing assistance. Most importantly, teachers can find ways, such as using sticky notes, to make the word wall evolve as students learn. As math vocabulary is revisited, students can write or draw further explanations on sticky notes and then post them directly on the word wall.
5. Take time to play!
Math games are always a great alternative for students to practice their math vocabulary. They provide a fun and unique avenue for students to enhance their understanding. The Word Wall Game requires a student to choose a word from the math word wall and give clues to the chosen word. Other students listen to the clues and then try to guess the word. Math Bingo is another good way to use a familiar game to reinforce vocabulary understanding. As students learn more vocabulary words, the teacher can reformat the vocabulary cards for an additional challenge. Teachers can also put the technology in their classroom to good use. For example, a projection unit and Microsoft PowerPoint Games can be combined to project games from the computer to a screen for the entire class to play. And there are dozens of online math games to discover.
By simply incorporating these five tips into your daily math instruction, you will help build a child’s math vocabulary— and a lifelong enjoyment of math.
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