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5 Math Vocabulary Activities for Primary Learners

How do you teach math vocabulary in your classroom? When you think of the word vocabulary, ELA is the subject that comes to most people’s minds. However, I want to share my passion with you about also teaching the importance of it during your math instruction! Below, I will share some strategies and activities you can use to focus on the significance of math vocabulary with your students.

How do you teach math vocabulary in your classroom? Click here to see 5 different activities you can use for primary learners!

If you’re not already familiar with Marzano’s Six Step Process, I would highly suggest looking over it for your vocabulary instruction. In this specific blog post, I mention how I use it during my reading block, but it’s also an effective method for math vocabulary!

Before we dive in, one of the big things I want you to take away from vocabulary instruction is the importance of students explaining terms using their OWN definitions. You don’t just want students reciting textbook definitions back to you without fully understanding the concept of it.

To effectively teach mathematical vocabulary, consider what foundational knowledge should they already know to understand the terms being taught and how they will be assessed.” (The Art & Science of Teaching, R. Marzano)

There are 3 different types of vocabulary words within mathematical concepts.

  1. Words that are already in students’ oral vocabulary that they need to recognize in print.
    • Ex: how, many, and more.
  2. Words that are not in students’ oral vocabulary, but they are somewhat familiar with them.
    • Ex: exact, complete, connect, item
  3. Words that are NOT in students’ oral vocabulary that relate to new concepts.
    • Ex: area, array, regrouping

Keep in mind that when looking over your mathematical vocabulary that goes with your lesson, which tier does it fall into…1, 2, or 3? That will help you decide what kind of instruction needs to be used with those words. You might have 2 or 3 words that your kids are already pretty familiar with that you don’t need to review as much, whereas these new terms that students are not as familiar with will need more exposure to.

Below are 5 different activity ideas that you can use to introduce or review vocabulary words with students during your math instruction time!

1. Graphic Organizers

I love using graphic organizers when introducing vocabulary words. The one seen below may look familiar to you. Even though it seems super simple, it truly is an effective way to help students better understand mathematical terminology. You can grab this exact one HERE!

How do you teach math vocabulary in your classroom? Click here to see 5 different activities you can use for primary learners!

You’ve probably seen something like this before used for reading vocabulary and while this one is somewhat similar it does have its differences. While in an ELA block, you might ask for a synonym or antonym, but in math you want students to demonstrate an example and a non-example.

As you are working through this graphic organizer, I just want to remember that you don’t have to complete everything in one day for every word. That could take forever!

Break it down into chunks for better understanding for your students. For example, on day 1 you could have students draw a picture for each of the vocabulary words. On day 2, you can go over and review definitions and have students write the definitions in their own words.

Once your students become familiar with these graphic organizers and become familiar with the activity, they could do it as a math station. That way it doesn’t take up too much of your whole group instruction time.

2. Pocket Chart Sorts

Pocket chart sorts can help students distinguish the characteristics that define a concept in a simple way. Something like this that has pictures really benefits your ELL students where they can put an image with a concept. It helps students visualize and see what they are and what they are not!

How do you teach math vocabulary in your classroom? Click here to see 5 different activities you can use for primary learners!

You can use pocket charts with shapes, place value blocks, time, money, and more! Once you do this whole group, you can put an activity like this in a math station. Students will be getting that valuable vocabulary practice without even realizing it.

3. Mile a Minute

This is one of my favorite games to play with students. Here’s how it works:

  • Place students into teams
  • Provide a list of words related to a specific concept
  • Call on a student to come to the front. They must read the words related to the concept.
  • The first team to guess the concepts gets a point.

I’ve done this several different ways. For example, you can put all the words on the board at one time and have students come up and read them out loud. Another way to play this game is to pull up a blank PowerPoint or have words written on an index card and only show one word at a time. The possibilities are endless with this and it’s such a great way to review those math vocab words!

4. Mathematical Conversations

If you’re a member of Managing Math Stations, you know how much I preach the importance of having mathematical conversations with your students on a daily basis.

You might have a kid who can answer a question correctly on paper, but to have them explain something using their own words is so valuable. You’re not going to know that they fully understand the concept unless you’re having mathematical conversations with them.

Something that I’m constantly using to have these mathematical conversations are these math comprehension question stem cards. I keep them on a ring at my small group station as well as up by my desk so that I have quick access to them whenever needed!

How do you teach math vocabulary in your classroom? Click here to see 5 different activities you can use for primary learners!

As you are having these important math discussions, include targeted vocabulary as part of the question. For example, What does it mean to partition a fraction? Always ask for an explanation and justification, as well. This way you are truly gaining an understanding of where your student is with their learning.

5. Math Word Wall

Last, but not least, have some sort of math word wall for your students to reference. You can do one inside of your classroom or in the hallway like the one below!

If you don’t have enough wall space to do an entire word wall, feel free to use other important graphics such as anchor charts and printable visuals. You can keep them up for long periods of time or switch them out according to what lesson you are teaching.

As you can see, there are SO many different ways to help practice those math vocabulary skills! You can see all of the strategies mentioned here in my Math Vocabulary Facebook Live Video.

Don’t forget to download your FREE math vocabulary graphic organizer to use with your students by filling out the form below!

Feel free to pin the image below to save this post for later!

How do you teach math vocabulary in your classroom? Click here to see 5 different activities you can use for primary learners!


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