A common feature in many classrooms, math word walls are often underutilized and serve as little more than a decorative display. When used well a word wall can be a powerful tool that develops math vocabulary, promotes independence, and supports reading and writing in mathematics. Similarly, providing students with a personal math vocabulary book ensures that they have access to the language they need to further develop math writing skills no matter where they are seated in the classroom. Similar to a personal dictionary, these books allow for differentiation as students can add the words they need to their own book and have them readily available at all times. Upper grade students can also add their own definitions of words.
6 Ways to Promote Effective Use of Math Vocabulary Resources:
a) The Word Wall Game: The objective of this game is for students to find words on the word wall, or in their vocabulary book, using clues given by the teacher, or another student. Students write the numerals 1-10 in their notebooks or on a dry erase board. The clue giver describes the 10 words and students write down what they think each word is.
Sample 5th grade clues: "I am thinking of a word that..."
• means the opposite of ..... /means the same as …
• describes the rules for performing operations in expressions with more than one operation.
• describes a mass equivalent to 1,000 grams.
this game when you have a spare few minutes between
lessons, or as
you are walking to and from lunch and have students say the
words rather than write them. You will be pleasantly surprised at how
quickly students begin to incorporate these words into their math writing.
b) Tic-Tac-Toe: Draw a large grid on chart paper and tape a vocabulary card in each square. Divide students into teams. Teams take turns choosing a word and defining it. If the team defines the word correctly, remove the card and place an X or an O in the square. Leave the card on the board if the team answers incorrectly. Continue play until one team has three in a row.
c) Cloze Activities: Write 2-3 sentences and leave blank spaces for students to fill in with appropriate math vocabulary from the word wall or vocabulary book. Alternatively, call out a math word and have students write a sentence that expresses a relationship or connection between the term and another math term, concept, situation, or real-world application. These are both good warm up activities for the start of a lesson.
d) Math Doodles: Call out a math word and have students sketch or doodle a picture of the word for 15-20 seconds, until the next word is called. Students connect each of their doodles with a line, making a simple link. After you’ve called out 5 words have students label their doodles without looking at the math word wall or their math vocabulary book. Next, ask students to call out the words in their chain and use the math word wall or vocabulary book to check for accuracy.
e) Vocabulary Sort: Choose 10-12
words from the word wall. Students work with a partner to think of different
ways they can sort the words into two, or more, groups (e.g. quadrilaterals/not
quadrilaterals, shape properties/names of shapes, units of measure/
etc.) Students record their word groups and explain their sorting
criteria in writing.
use as many of the current math word wall words as they can to write and illustrate
a short story. Word wall words are highlighted or underlined.
g) Math Vocabulary Riddle: Students write a riddle based on a math word wall word and trade with a partner.
Example: I am a 3D shape.
I have 6 identical square faces.
I have 8 vertices and 12 edges.
What am I?
h) Vocabulary Crossword Puzzle: Students create a crossword puzzle
using 10-12 words from the current math word wall and trade puzzles with a partner.
Students can create puzzles by hand or use an online crossword puzzle
i) Math Vocabulary Triangle: Students write a word from the word wall or math vocabulary book on the first line. On the second line they write two words that are synonyms for the chosen word. On the third line they write three words describing the chosen word. On the fourth line they write a fact about the word.
flat shape measuring tool
six sided polygon millimeters and centimeters
beehive cells are hexagonal used to measure distance
Compare and Contrast: Choose two vocabulary words from the current unit and have
students work with a partner to come up with different ways that the words are
alike and different.
A centimeter and a meter are alike because ….
A centimeter and a meter are different because ….
A rhombus and a trapezoid are alike because ….
A rhombus and a trapezoid are different because ….
One-half and one-fourth are alike because ….
One-half and one-fourth are different because ….
For more ideas on how to develop student's math writing skills see our page on Strategies to Support Math Writing.