Q&A #19366

Math language

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From: Claire (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: Feb 21, 2008 at 13:22:25
Subject: Re: Math language

Hi, Lissa --

Thanks for writing to T2T. I'm a big fan of word walls, and I agree that
language is critical in math. Without good math language, kids can't think
about math. They need lots of practice using it themselves, both in speaking
and writing, in order for it to be internalized. Simply being "consumers" of
the teachers math talk doesn't do the trick. Word walls are a great way to
develop math vocabulary.

I recommend that you build your walls from the vocabulary in your curriculum.
Most published programs identify key vocabulary of each unit in the teacher's
manual. The words used in your program are the ones that will be most useful
on a daily basis. Glossaries in math books could be another good source of
vocabulary. Consider making your word wall a "work in progress," gradually
adding words as they're encountered, rather than making a static display. You
might have students create the word cards and add their own visual clues to
help each other remember them.

Here's a collection of general web resources on word walls, not just

If you know other vocabulary used in other contexts your students encounter,
e.g., tests, by all means include them and incorporate them into your daily
math talk. Simply putting them on the wall doesn't work. Using new vocabulary
in context is also more effective than teaching words in isolation.

I would caution against teaching "key words" as a problem solving strategy.
They can be quite misleading, and they lead kids to focus on a few words and
go on auto-pilot, rather than try to visualize and understand what's really
happening in the problem. If you have access to NCTM's journal Mathematics
Teaching in the Middle School, March 2005, there is a good article on
alternatives to using key words, p 360.

I hope this is helpful. Please let me know if you have other questions.

 -Claire, for the T2T service

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