Skip to main content

Vocabulary

Think Math! helps you build students' mathematical language and increase their everyday vocabulary at the same time. 

Where to find more information

Every lesson contains a Developing Mathematical Language section. More ideas and information about how to help students learn vocabulary and mathematical ways of speaking, reading, and writing can be found on the developing mathematical language on this website.

Informal language vs. mathematical vocabulary

Sometimes, we use "mathematical" words with casual meanings: "Czechoslovakia peacefully divided into two new nations. In addition, it..." When talking about geography, this is not confusing at all. In the context of mathematics -- for example, when discussing how the number 10 might be partitioned into four parts -- it is potentially confusing to say things like "how can it be divided into four parts," because division may not be intended at all.

Sometimes, we use very ordinary words with specific mathematical meanings. The question "what is the difference between 6 and 9," in most mathematical contexts, should get the answer "3," and not "one looks like the other turned upside down."

Because children are learning their mathematics -- and their mathematical language -- they can't always be sure whether a mathematical or a casual meaning is intended. It is useful to be aware that some student misunderstandings are not from lack of knowledge of the mathematical meaning as much as uncertainty about what meaning is intended.