Using Mathematic Vocabulary to Close the Gap

A recent article in edutopia, "Developing Students' Academic Vocabulary Helps Beat Achievement Gap," describes how one administrator uses sheltered language techniques to shrink the achievement gap in science and math between Hispanic students and their white peers in his small school district. Profound changes can occur in academics when student vocabulary development is emphasized. The author, Ben Johnson, presents strategies that work, using examples from class lessons. He suggests that teachers very deliberately introduce vocabulary that may be new to students. In a math classroom, for instance, the vocabulary of geometric solids--rectangular prism, triangular prism, pyramid, etc--may be encountered for the first time. Teachers may need to pause, and provide accessible ways to familiarize students with the words. Using examples from a science classroom, Johnson details specific ways to help students: 1) recognize the words in context, 2) reproduce the words in context, and 3) write the words in context.

As you read his article, think about how it might be applied in the mathematics classroom setting. Also, consider how the Word Resource Cards and the related glossary in the back of student math journals provide related vocabulary development and support.



 I just read the referenced article and found that another reader mentions Spelling City. If you're not familiar, Spelling City is a FREE website where teachers can post their classroom spelling and vocabulary words for student practice at home and at school. There are also ready-made spelling and vocabulary lists including math vocabulary by strand and by grade referenced to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.  The words are put into all kinds of practice activities, including games. Some teachers put the activities on their Smart boards and use with their class. It is a site worth checking out for both spelling and vocabulary practice. Here is the link to the math vocabulary:

From Pia Hansen:

...another idea I used for vocabulary development, especially in Geometry: I copied the front of the Word Resource cards (just the word and pictures). I cut them vertically to separate the two parts. In groups of 2-4, I gave the students only the picture parts to develop sorting categories (a concept map) based on what they knew about the pictures. For example, they might put all the 2-Dimensional shapes together, and then split them out by number of sides. I monitored their work and used the dialogue between students as a pre-assessment of what they knew. The groups shared briefly at the end of the session, and reinforced each others' learning. Another day, I gave them the word label parts and asked them to match the word with the pictures. Again, I used this as a formative assessment of what students had mastered. By the time we got to the end of the unit, students had really interacted with the written word and pictures in a meaningful way :)