“Proficiency in mathematics has increasingly hinged upon a child’s ability to understand and use two kinds of math vocabulary words: math-specific words and ambiguous, multiple-meaning words with math denotations. Elementary school teachers can identify these words and design lessons that provide student-friendly definitions and offer opportunities for deep processing of word meanings. These efforts will help students to use the language of math” (Pierce & Fontaine, p. 242).

Math vocab is a challenge for students, especially when taking “high-stakes” math tests. Pierce and Fontaine show that there are two kinds of math vocabulary words:

1. Math-specific words, or technical vocabulary, which “have a precise mathematical denotation that must be taught explicitly to students (e.g., parallel, isosceles)” (Pierce & Fontaine, p. 240).

2. Multiple-meaning words, or subtechnical vocabulary, which “have a common meaning that students generally know already; however, they also have a less common, mathematical denotation that may be less familiar to students (e.g., mean, table)” (Pierce & Fontaine, p. 240).

Pierce & Fontaine present a list of the most common technical and subtechnical vocabulary words and make suggestions for vocab instruction in mathematics.

They strongly recommend that teachers should guide students through activities where they can create their own student friendly definition and activities that allow for deep processing of the word meaning, instead of simply repeating the definition.

View their article here.