Do You Speak Math?

4 Feb

You can always count on Calvin and Hobbes to illustrate  how mystifying some schoolwork can be to children.  Take this one on math:


Math truly is another language for children.  If your kids are English learners, it can feel like a double whammy–new math words, explained in a difficult language.

My first few years of teaching, I dealt with math vocabulary by ignoring it.  Denominators became “the bottom number” of fractions, the word “quotient” was nonexistent.  I thought I was making math accessible, but I was really denying my students any chance of becoming mathematically literate.

Now, I make sure I use the official terms in every lesson.  My class is comfortable using official terms when they talk about math.  I feel pretty confident in how I’m incorporating vocabulary into the subject.

Sort of.

But math talks need some more work in my room, as illustrated by a recent test on fractions, when multiple students weren’t sure what “equivalent fraction” meant.  We’d been using the word in lessons, it had been an official “word of the week,” and I thought it was one of the clearer terms (it has the word equal in it!).

What I was reminded of, is that me saying the word, or even having students repeat the word and use it in a sentence, isn’t enough for full comprehension.  Children need to say, read, and write words in context to help them solidify their understanding.  Even better, they need to make connections between words.

There are some graphic organizers and activities that can help children to make these connections.  Some of these I was already familiar with, and some I found after some research.

The Frayer model is one organizer I’ve mentioned before:

Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 7.17.11 PM

You can also use a Venn Diagram for making connections in math:

Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 7.16.55 PM

Or a web:

Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 7.17.52 PM

Or concept circles:
Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 7.21.32 PM

These organizer examples are available at this PDF site, along with blackline masters that you can print.

These organizers all help children to understand how vocabulary words are related and organized.  You can also get a lot of bang for your buck just by asking children to write how they solved a problem, using vocabulary words and some friendly sentence frames.  For example, I asked students to write how they knew that one fraction was larger than another during a compare and contrast lesson.  They could pick from a word bank of words, “greater than, less than, numerator, denominator, half.”  It was a challenge for many, but when they wrote, “I know 3/5 is greater than 2/8, because 3/5 is more than half, and 2/8 is less than half” I could tell they had a firm understanding of fraction size.

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