Students with learning disabilities often struggle to understand and use the appropriate vocabulary when expressing their ideas in all content areas, including mathematics. Using correct mathematical terms can seem like learning a new language! Students won't simply absorb newly taught math terms when presented throughout the lesson. Instead, the best approach is to introduce new vocabulary through explicit instruction, in the context of meaningful math examples. Students will construct meaning as the teacher repeatedly connects the term with the definition as they are engaging in mathematical investigations.
6 ways to increase your students' understanding and use of math vocabulary:
- Graphic Organizers: Use a graphic organizer for students to record and reinforce their understanding of math terms. In addition to the Frayer Model shown below, you can use Venn Diagrams, semantic maps, word banks, etc.
- Word Walls: Vocabulary terms that are relevant to the current unit should be displayed in the classroom. The word wall should include each important word, along with a corresponding image and simple definition.
- Personal Word Banks: Students should also have their own personal word walls, or word banks. If they fill out a graphic organizer for each new math vocabulary term, they can keep the words neatly stored in a math journal or binder.
- Modeling: The teacher should repeatedly demonstrate how to use correct math language when presenting a new topic or discussing a math problem. Ex: "Let's take a look at the area, or inside space, of the shape. We already know the area is 8 square units…"
- Corrective Feedback: Students should be encouraged to use correct mathematical language in their speaking and writing. If they use an incorrect term, the teacher should provide immediate corrective feedback. For example, if a student says, "The inside of the shape is 8 square units," the teacher should prompt: "What is the inside of the shape called? Can you repeat your answer using the word area?"
- Math Journals: Journaling is a great way to reinforce the use of math language. As students write about what they learned in math class and how they solved specific problems, they are reflecting on the newly taught math concepts and reinforcing their understanding of the correct terms. They should be encouraged to use the word wall or graphic organizers to incorporate correct math vocabulary in their writing.
The Frayer Model is a popular tool used to understand new math vocabulary terms. In this model, students record the word in the center of the graphic organizer. In the surrounding boxes, they list the definition, characteristics, and provide examples and non-examples. Use of the Frayer Model, along with other types of graphic organizers, will lead to a deeper meaning of each mathematical term.
Example of how to use the Frayer Model:
How do you teach math vocabulary in your classroom? Feel free to share advice and tips below!