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The Importance of Using Maths Terminology

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Photo of Alison Smith
Updated | 5 min read

It is critical for students to understand and use maths terminology in daily maths lessons. Maths has a language of its own. Sometimes it uses symbols and sometimes the written word, but there is no denying that Maths is a language.

Maths terminology plays a critical part in understanding maths concepts.

Do you have students in your classroom who do not respond to questions in mathematics lessons? Perhaps you can think of students who demonstrate knowledge and understanding of maths concepts in class, but do not perform well in maths tests? Or maybe, you have a student who performs exceptionally in non-verbal reasoning tests but does not show the same ability when solving word problems?

There are three main ways in which your students’ failure to understand maths terminology may show itself:

  • not responding to questions and seeming disengaged
  • unable to complete tasks that are heavy on written instruction
  • unable to apply knowledge an understanding in mathematics tests.

Update Your Classroom Display

Do you have a maths vocabulary display in your classroom that is looking and feeling a little bit sad? Why not freshen up your maths vocabulary classroom display with our new Mathematics Vocabulary Posters.

Why is it Important to Teach and Learn Maths Terminology?

We could think of Maths as a fast-paced sport. Stay with me.

Most sports include some unusual lingo – let’s use basketball as an example. The fast-paced nature of basketball can make learning the language of hoops even more of a challenge. If you’ve ever been assigned to coach basketball as an extracurricular sport, you’ll know that there’s little point in asking your students to fast break the ball down the court, post up, layup or ally-oop unless there is a clear understanding of what these technical terms mean.

With this analogy in mind, imagine being a student lost in a fast-paced maths lesson, confused by the language and the terminology. Even with the best intentions, your confused student is soon going to feel overwhelmed, frustrated and defeated.

Don’t forget that your students need regular planned opportunities to read, unpack and use maths terminology.

I used our Maths – Classroom Theme Pack editable word wall cards to create this eye-catching classroom display. Remember to refer to your display daily, discuss the vocabulary and make it part of your daily routine to pick a word and explore it!

Support Your Students with Vocabulary Keyrings

I used our Maths – Classroom Theme Pack editable name tags to create these effective maths vocabulary keyrings to help students to make links between maths terminology related to the four operations. I love the idea of making a set of four keyrings for each table. But if you’re strapped for time, make one keyring for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and hang them up as part of your maths display for students to use and return.

Punch-Out Maths Terminology

Are you looking for a way to support both kinesthetic and visual learners?

Take away the fear of mathematical terminology by using fun hand gestures to represent the four operations. Using hand gestures is a great way to reinforce teaching and learning and to help make student thinking more visible. This kind of teaching and learning technique makes me smile on the inside.

Take the time to watch this wonderful Teaching Channel video. It provides a sneak peek into a classroom in the United Kingdom, tackling word problems and maths terminology in a genius way!

One of the hardest things about solving word problems is unpacking the words and identifying the maths operation(s) needed to find the solution. Students need practice at both reading and interpreting word problems and identifying the operation required. Worry about the actual answer later on!

How to use this technique:

  • Introduce a hand gesture and sound effect for each of the four mathematical operations. Choose easy to remember actions and short, sharp sound effects.
  • Familiarise your students with these gestures by using them during daily maths lessons. Whenever you use the words ‘addition’, ‘subtraction’, ‘multiplication’ or ‘division’, encourage your students to make the hand gesture and sound effect.
  • Provide your class with a selection of word problem task cards that involve the four operations.
  • Ask your students to work with a partner to take it in turns to read the word problem and identify the maths operation needed to solve the problem.
  • Encourage your students to make the gesture and sound effect as soon as they identify the operation needed to solve each word problem. Make it fast-paced and fun!

Don’t forget that your students need regular planned opportunities for development in this important area of Mathematics.

Sort Maths Terminology Building Brick

For middle years, why not set up a maths terminology sorting task? I wrote maths vocabulary on building blocks but you could use anything that you can get your hands on. From bottle tops to paddle pop sticks, your students will develop their understanding of maths terminology and how maths vocabulary often carries the same meaning by engaging in a kinesthetic activity.

Create a Maths Terminology Word Search

Why not give your students a brain break from numbers? You can customise our own maths terminology word search by using our Create Your Own Word Search Widget.

How to do it:

  1. Select Widgets from the home menu.
  2. Find and select Create Your Own Word Search
  3. Add a title.
  4. Enter a list of words that you would like to appear in your word search.
  5. Select a board size and font.
  6. Choose ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to including diagonals.

If you are teaching and learning about vocabulary related to measurement, it’s your lucky day! There’s a list of 45 measurement words, ready to go! Just select the appropriate word list from the drop-down menu (Custom List) and you are good to go.

Here’s some more teaching ideas as a parting gift.

Go forth and multiply the opportunities to learn and teach maths terminology in your classroom.

You’ve got this!



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