Math and Literacy Connection: Vocabulary

One of the big connections between math and literacy is teaching academic vocabulary.  Without understanding of key vocabulary in math, students will struggle with each concept.  Because a teacher cannot assume that students will automatically understand content vocabulary, the teacher needs to employ the vocabulary strategies used during literacy instruction to mathematics.

Mathematical literacy is dependent on vocabulary knowledge.  Many of the words have meanings in math that are different from the meanings in every day use.
  • Product
    • something that is manufactured for sale
    • number or expression resulting from the multiplication of two or more numbers or expressions
  • Mean
    • deliberately unkind
    • a number equal to the sum of a set of numbers divided by how many numbers are in the set (average)
Knowing a word is more than just knowing the definition, which means that looking up definitions in the dictionary/glossary is not an effective way to help students create a firm foundation.  A fellow instructional coach and I created an interactive vocabulary strategy to help our students.  We used this strategy in grades PK-12 in all subjects.

The strategy has five steps that are easy to follow and help you create a plan to teach vocabulary more explicitly.

  • Choose the Words
    • The goal of this step is to choose 3 words per topic that are the most important to understanding the concepts being taught.  They are "umbrella" words that other vocabulary would fall under during the study of that topic.
  • Introduce the Words
    • Introduce the words without directly telling students the definitions of the words.  Give clues about the words using images and objects associated with the word.
    • Have students infer the meaning of the word and write a description.  This description is a starting place for their understanding of the word and the description will be modified as they learn more.
  • Infer Meaning using Context Clues
    • Read aloud a passage that has the vocabulary words in context (from a novel, textbook, article, teacher-created paragraph, etc.)
    • Create a class chart with three columns:  word, text clues, inferred meaning.
  • Create a Graphic Representation
    • Model creating a graphic representation (see FREEBIE below for template for this step) of one of the words making sure to think out loud for students about why the graphic was chosen.
    • This is a great step for students to do in groups.
  •   Interact with the Words
    • After being explicitly taught the vocabulary with the above steps, students will begin to interact with the words in a variety of ways:  graphic organizers, games, word association activities, etc. (see FREEBIE for ideas on how to do this)
One last thought (and a freebie) before you go:

CLICK HERE to download this strategy and CLICK HERE to download an example way to interact with the words - Word Association.

What do students think about this strategy?  Here are some direct quotes from eighth grade students:
  • "I think vocabulary strategies this year are a lot stronger than ones last year.  Now I can understand what words mean without struggling to memorize a definition from a dictionary.  Also, things are easier to sink in now."
  • "I love doing the skits and pictures, and I also love Pictionary and the clues.  Last year I didn't like learning vocabulary so much, but this year it's easier to learn the words when we're having fun."
  • "I love doing vocabulary this way instead of just looking up the definition the old way where you just copy out of a glossary.  It was much easier to learn this way."
If you missed the first post in the Math and Literacy Connection Series, go back to read about why the connection is important and learn about another vocabulary strategy - Word Splash.

Next month I will continue the series with poetry...math and poetry make a fantastic connection.

Math and Literacy Connection Series at Adventures in Literacy Land

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