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# Vocabulary in Mathematics Classrooms

By Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

When most people think of mathematics they think of numbers, but math is a subject with its own very particular vocabulary, and if you don’t know precisely what its words and symbols mean, you just can’t do mathematics! Here are some activities teachers use which help students master the language of math.

### A Symbol Board

Cover a bulletin board or attach a banner to your wall and add symbols to it as they are introduced. Put the symbol and a “class-created, user-friendly” definition. Add pictures and opposites as appropriate. Use different colored markers and make it as appealing as possible

### Math Morphemes

The Word Bench activity in which you ask your students if they know any other words that look and sound like a new mathematics term and if they think any of these words might be related will help your students become more morphologically sophisticated. In addition, you have the unique opportunity to teach your students the meaning for some morphemes that occur most commonly in mathematics words. Seize this opportunity when introducing one of these words because your students might not meet these morphemes in any of their other classes:

 Morpheme Math Usage General Usage bi (two) cent (hundred) circu (around) co, con (with) dec (ten) dia (through) equi (equal) inter (between) kilo (thousand) milli (thousand) peri (around) poly (many) quadr (four) tri (thre bisect, binomial, bimodal centimeter, percent circle, circumference coefficient, cosine, collinear decimal, decagon diagonal, diameter equilateral, equiangular intersect, interpolate kilometer, kilogram millimeter, milligram perimeter polygon, polynomial quadrant, quadruple triangle, triple bicycle, bifocals, bilingual century, centipede circumvent, circumstances cocaptains, coordinate, concurrent decade, decibel dialogue, diagram equator, equinox, equitable interception, international kilowatt millennium, million periphery, periscope, periodontal polygamy, polyunsaturated quadrangle, quadruped tricycle, tripod, trilogy

### Multimeaning Luck

Math has more than its share of words such as base, product, power, point, and ray for which students have one meaning but for which they need to develop a math-related concept. Multimeaning Luck is a fun activity to review the mathematical meaning for these words. Prepare for the lesson by writing down each word, with one math-related and one non-math-related definition. (Overhead transparencies work best for this lesson, but you can also write the words on the board.) On the bottom of the transparency or on a part of the board you can cover temporarily, write one sentence for each word. Be sure to include in these sentences both math-related and unrelated meanings, as students will have to guess which definition your sentence uses. If you use only math-related meanings, they will easily figure out the system. The following is a sample lesson.

Begin the lesson by displaying the words and their two definitions:

times

1. multiplied by
2. periods of life

gross

1. disgusting
2. 12 dozen

line

1. a piece of rope, cord, wire, or string
2. the shortest distance between two points

mean

1. unkind
2. average

face

1. front part of the head
2. any surface of a solid figure

As you read each word and its two definitions, have each student write the word and a 1 or 2 to indicate a guess of which meaning you have used in the covered sentences. Be sure to tell students that doing well on this part of the lesson is simply a matter of luck. You may want to tell students this is a way to find out how their luck is running today.

When all students have made their guesses, display the sentences one at a time. Have students give themselves five points for every lucky guess and deduct five points for every unlucky guess. The person with the most points is the lucky person for the day. Once lucky and unlucky persons have been applauded and commiserated with, respectively, review the math definitions and remind your students that they will often find words in math for which they have other meanings, and that they must not let those words lead them astray but must try to figure out and remember the mathematical meaning.

Are you curious as to how you did with your guesses? If so, you will see one of the advantages of Multimeaning Luck. Once you have made a guess, you want to know how you did. You care about and pay attention to which meanings the multimeaning words had. Here are your sentences.

We had some good times together.
She ordered a gross of pencils.
I’ve got a huge fish out here on my line.
The mean temperature for Hawaii in July is 84 degrees.
My aunt is in the hospital having a face-lift.

Give yourself five points for every lucky guess and subtract five for every unlucky guess. Are you having a lucky day? Did you pick only the math-related meanings even though we told you to include others?