To define fraction a student must demonstrate understanding of the mathematical idea of a fraction. An example of a vocabulary activity for the term fraction is the use of a Frayer Model (Frayer, Frederick, & Klausmeier, 1969). The Frayer Model diagram shown to the right illustrates how the understanding of fraction is deepened, reinforced and/or developed as a student creates and completes this chart.
Students should also be required to use specific math vocabulary both orally and in writing beyond vocabulary-specific activities. The California Department of Education finds that teaching math vocabulary in context is “essential for instruction” and goes on to provide an excellent set of recommendations (2015, p. 685).
- Explicitly teach academic vocabulary for mathematics, and structure activities in which students regularly employ key mathematical terms. Be aware of words that have multiple meanings (such as root, plane, table, and so forth).
- Provide communication guides, sometimes called sentence frames, as a temporary scaffold to help students express themselves not just in complete sentences but articulately within the MP standards.
- Use graphic organizers and visuals to help students understand mathematical processes and vocabulary.
Mathematical Language Routines (MLRs) (Zwiers et al., 2017) are an excellent set of evidence-based techniques to assist students with math discourse and with understanding and solving math word problems. The eight MLRs are designed for high levels of student engagement with mathematics texts and discussions. Teachers need to implement techniques that are explicitly designed to assist students in understanding the language of mathematics.
Attention to math vocabulary is an essential part of math instruction. Attention must be given to the variety of challenges students face when learning and using the language of mathematics, such as, math specific words, words with multiple meanings, small words, and semantic challenges (for example, long dense noun phrases). Teachers must explicitly draw attention to mathematical terms as they arise throughout instruction by illustrating the meaning of the terms, helping students associate images with terms (Marzano et al., 2001) and providing constant reinforcement. Teachers can further improve learning by implementing other evidence-based techniques, such as the eight Mathematical Language Routines. Teachers need to keep in mind that math vocabulary goes hand-in-hand with math concepts. Learning math vocabulary in meaningful ways increases students’ learning of mathematics.
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