Deepening Math Vocabulary In One Simple Step

Sometimes I think we abandon the simple things that we know work because we are always on the hunt for new and better. Of course I’m not saying that we shouldn’t continually improve, I just don’t want to throw out things that still work well. I’ve seen a whole lot of “pretty” flashcards on Pinterest for students to practice math vocabulary. Learning words in isolation though, isn’t going to help make deep connections. Take a look at Robert Marzano’s steps for learning vocabulary.

We use mind maps in writing to help expand upon ideas.  They work amazingly well for brainstorming and thinking, students pages will fill right up.  Why not do the same in math with vocabulary that has multiple meanings and real world connections?

Take for instance the word “quarter”.  While working on a Fraction Equivalence Piles puzzle we came across that word, and it was apparent that for the whole group it was an unknown word.  Quarter is a word that goes deep and has many connections that students can relate to. Instead of putting it on a flashcard and practicing it in isolation, our small group took less than five minutes to think about all the different times we have heard the word quarter.  We laid it all out on the table (you know I love to write all over tables).  Check it out:


The beauty of taking those few minutes to explore the word means it brought it to the front of their minds. So the next day one of them came in and told me the night before they had heard his mom say while making dinner “I need a quarter cup of flour.”   He was elated to tell me that he knew that four quarter cups made one cup.

It is the simple things my math friends. It doesn’t always mean buying a pack, or a bundle or a worksheet.  It’s doesn’t always mean making it pretty from something we saw on Pinterest.  It doesn’t have to always be cut out or have a chevron background. Sometimes we simply have to trust that we can respond to what students need right there on the spot.  Trust in yourself to be the master teacher.




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