**Is precise math vocabulary really THAT important? **

If my kids can “do the math” isn’t that the point? I know there are math teachers thinking this. Well, I totally understand where this is coming from folks. I know as a kid; I didn’t understand correct terminology in math. I’m pretty sure my teachers didn’t “teach” the vocabulary, but just hoped we’d catch on. However, now I’m realizing it is part of the reason why I was not a better math student.

As a teacher, I am seeing a direct link between students who know and can use correct terminology, and higher scores. So, vocabulary is important. Here are three reasons why it is imperative for our kids to be comfortable with math vocabulary.

## 1. **Kids can’t complete the problem if they don’t understand the question!**

**Year after year I was frustrated with low math scores, especially from kids who I knew understood a LOT of the math.** Some of these kids who were **slaying** the current skill in math. For instance, in our place value unit, they know that 600 is ten times greater than 60, and they get similar place value questions right every time! But they still bomb the common assessment. UGGH Why? Because they would never see a question like that on a test. More likely a question would look like this:

**Select all the numbers in which the value of the digit 6 is ten times greater than the value of the digit 6 in 38,264.**

Kids who are not used to using mathematical vocabulary read this like the blah blah blah teacher on the Peanuts cartoon. Remember that one? Made me giggle every time. When some kids read something like this, their head starts spinning and they don’t know where to start. Students who feel comfortable with mathematical vocabulary still might slow down on a heavily worded test question, but they will get the gist of the meaning and feel empowered to begin working.

## 2. Kids need to be able to explain their thinking.

**We can’t explain our ideas if we don’t know the words.** Good math teachers know now that it is one thing to be able to do math, and it is another thing to be able to explain your thinking.

Since we have implemented number talks into our routine, my students are becoming much better at explaining their thinking. When students try to explain their thinking, I believe there is something that is happening in the brain that is solidifying the concept for them.

We know that when toddlers are learning to speak, there is a strong link between vocabulary and concept development. I think something similar is happening here. **If we can DO something, we have some degree of understanding, but if we can EXPLAIN it, we have a much greater degree. **As students practice this skill and begin to use correct terminology, I can see them grow in confidence and their approach to the math work shows it.

I’ve made reference to this before that I never was a great math student, but when I started teaching math, it all came VERY clear to me. When you can explain how it works, you know it. The more **I see the POWER my kids feel they have when they can explain their thinking**, the more driven I am to make sure they get lots of practice doing this.

## 3. Math Vocabulary Terms often have Different Meanings in the context of Math.

**Math has its own language! See if this list resonates confusion with you – **

**Even**means flat…**Odd**means strange…**Chord**is a group of harmonizing notes…**Base**is what you touch in baseball…**Factor**is something to consider…**Frequency**the pitch of a sound…**Product**is something that is sold…**Ray**is a beam of light!! …..

and the list goes on and on. These common math words have a TOTALLY different meaning outside of the math realm!! No wonder people are confused, and so are our kids!

**And don’t get me started on how this impacts our second-language kids! **You may have a very hard-working eager ELL who is actively using his bilingual dictionary on words like these, but when he does, he is given the WRONG definition. How CONFUSING!

This is another reason why math vocabulary must be explicitly taught. Many of those words our kids already know, BUT… they learned a completely different meaning for them. Let’s clear up the confusion and make sure our students know the meaning of these important math words.

## Other Articles of Interest in Math Vocabulary:

How have you seen the importance of vocabulary in your math class?

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