20.4: Teaching vocabulary and symbols
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Examples for teaching mathematics vocabulary and symbols are explained in this section.
1. Word Walls/Word Banks: Word walls and word banks can be used in two ways. First, instructors can create cards with vocabulary terms or symbols and the corresponding definitions. Second, students can create their own cards. Once cards have been created, they are placed on a word wall, or students can keep their own notebook containing the terms. When the word wall or student notebook is organized, the words should be placed in meaningful sections. For example, one section may be devoted to fractions, another section to basic operations, another to geometry terms, and so forth. This meaningful organization will help students when they are looking for the terms. It is important to note that simply placing word cards on the wall or having students add them to their notebooks does not increase student understanding of the vocabulary or symbols. Instructors must teach these vocabulary terms and symbols and their definitions and then relate the terms and symbols to student learning. Instructors should use precise mathematical vocabulary in teaching and correcting, and they should also encourage students to use correct mathematical language in speech.
2. Vocabulary Cards: These cards may have the same vocabulary terms and symbols as those on the word wall or word bank. If instructors use vocabulary cards to teach definitions, they should write each term on the front of a card and its definition on the back. When the cards are used to teach symbols, the instructor should write each symbol on the front of a card and its name on the back. The cards are used as a practice activity in which students quickly say the word and state its definition or identify a symbol and cite its meaning. Through vocabulary card practice activities, students will learn to automatically recognize mathematical vocabulary terms and symbols.
3. Labeling: Students are expected to label parts of a problem or figure in mathematics. Often, students need opportunities to identify vocabulary terms prior to solving problems. To increase overall mathematical vocabulary and flexibility, problems should be written in a variety of ways to show variability. Providing students with examples such as the ones below will enable instructors to assess students’ understanding of terms prior to problem solving.
4. Identifying Characteristics: Some mathematical terms or concepts are more complicated than others and require further explanation as well as examples and nonexamples. A characteristics table presents information in a manner that is easy for students to access. When a term or concept is introduced, instructors and students should complete a characteristics table together. In the first box, characteristics of the term/concept are listed. In the second box, examples of the term/concept are provided. In the third box, nonexamples are listed. For some concepts or terms, it may be helpful to provide pictures of the examples and nonexamples.
polygon: a simple, closed plan figure made up of three or more line segments