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Q&A #19682


Translating word problems into math word list

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From: Claire (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: Jul 10, 2008 at 22:25:56
Subject: Re: Translating word problems into math word list

Hi, Cheryl --

You're wise to address the issue of math language with your students. Without
good math language, kids can't think about math. I'm not aware of a specific
list of words, although they must exist.

I strongly believe it's best to teach vocabulary in the context of a problem.
That's what gives it meaning. There is not much evidence that teaching
isolated vocabulary out of context does much good in any subject area. I
believe the research also shows that people need multiple exposures to a word
in a variety of contexts before they really internalize its meaning. Make
sure you are using and reinforcing the new vocabulary at every opportunity,
and recognizing students' use of it. Students need lots of practice using
language themselves, both in speaking and writing, in order to make it their
own. Simply being "consumers" of the teachers math talk doesn't do the trick.

Are you familiar with the idea of a word wall? As new vocabulary gets
introduced, a new card with the term is added to a special place on your
wall. You might have students create the cards and decorate them with visual
associations to help with memory. They are always visible for students to
look at when they are trying to understand a problem being presented, or when
they are speaking/writing math. Here is a page with lots of resources on word
walls.
http://www.education-world.com/a_lesson/lesson/lesson328b.shtml

I recommend that you build your word wall 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.

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 isn't effective.

I would caution against having students memorize "key words" as a strategy
for determining what operation to use. 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 write again if you have other questions.

 -Claire, for the T2T service

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