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Math Workshop Monday - Math Vocabulary 1-2-3

It's so funny how time goes by so fast during the summer!  I mean CRAZY FAST!  Oh well, I am actually looking forward to going back to my crazy teaching schedule and another school year (really!).  Having so much free time is not always a good least for me.

This week I want to talk about math vocabulary!  Over a year ago, I did an action research project on what effect direct teaching of math vocabulary has on math understanding and achievement.   I learned so much that year about the importance of math vocabulary and discourse and I now incorporate math vocabulary instruction into my daily math lessons.

There are THREE  really important ways to directly teach vocabulary:
Your students absolutely must have a math vocabulary notebook to record relevant math words that go with each math unit.  Here is an example of the notebook I used with my students that first year:

I used our school binding machine to put together booklets like these for each of my students.  Inside are pages for students to record the definition for each math word (written in their own words), a non-linguistic representation (picture), examples of the word and non-examples.  Here are some samples of completed pages:

You can download this form for free HERE

These notebooks become part of your daily math work.  I constantly see students getting these out and using them during math as a reference.  Students know that they are a work in progress and as their understanding of the words change, they can go back into their notebooks and reflect that new understanding by adding on to their previous definition, picture or examples.

Last year, my students used interactive math notebooks (we used composition notebooks), so instead of using the bound booklet (as you see above), I had students use the back of their INB for vocabulary.  We tabbed off the back half the notebook, added a table of contents to list the words and then students used the blank pages to record the word, definition, picture and examples/non-examples.  This really simplified things, but was equally effective.  I liked that students had all of their math resources kept in one place, which made them much more user-friendly for the kiddos.

Display a math word wall or word bank in your classroom.  I like to display the words for the current unit we are working on, but you could keep up all math words for the whole year!  I have a great set of math vocabulary cards that make a shnazzzy looking word wall and includes a smaller version of the cards so that students can keep their own ring of cards:

The students in my classroom REALLY USE the word wall.  We are constantly referring to it and using it as a reference.  It is a GREAT use of valuable wall space, in my opinion.

Give students lots and lots of opportunities to use and play with the words!  Have them play vocabulary games, and discuss the words with partners or in small groups.  One of our favorite games is math vocabulary Pictionary.  Two students share a dry erase of them draws a picture of a math word and the other tries to guess the word!  Simple, fun and really gets them thinking about the words.  Task cards also work beautifully to reinforce vocabulary words! My girl Ashleigh has a great set on TPT:

You can find some other examples of vocabulary activities that I did with my fractions unit in this post:  Fraction Vocabulary and FREEBIES

My final thoughts are these:  when you begin to incorporate daily direct instruction of math vocabulary, your lessons begin to have a much more focused structure.  The words begin to guide each of your lessons.  My huge takeaway from my action research project was that the words of math are the backbone of math understanding, and they must be a priority in your math instruction.

Finally, I've gotta brag on my newest product!  Last week I wrote about making my graphing unit more real-world and authentic for students.  In the spirit of meaningful learning that addresses 21st century skills, I created a project based learning unit, that gives students meaningful and fun opportunities to collect, organize and analyze data.  Check it out!

I hope you find this post helpful...I would love your comments and feedback.  How do you teach math vocabulary?

Don't forget to link up!


  1. I must admit that I haven't done much with Math vocab other than introduce, explain it, And play games where they need to use the terms. But now that I'll be teaching third grade your post has given me food for thought. Thanks for the good ideas.
    Always Primary