How to Get Started Using a Math Word Wall

As we near the end of the fall semester, I know many of you are already thinking about and preparing for the spring semester. For the next few weeks, I will be offering blog content to do just that! Today’s post was inspired by a conversation that I recently had with a principal who, after analyzing test data, concluded that her teachers needed to do more work with math vocabulary.

Over the years, I have often heard teachers talking about their students being unable to answer questions on state assessments because they get confused about the vocabulary. I always think to myself, and am sometimes brave enough to ask, “How did you rehearse the vocabulary in the classroom?” The responses have varied but generally amount to giving vocabulary quizzes, using flashcards, or creating a Frayer graphic organizer for each word. While all of these methods are great, they will not produce a long-term understanding of important math vocabulary and terms.

Instead, we must give students the opportunity to interact with the words on a regular basis in a way which is both engaging and meaningful. Understanding mathematical vocabulary and terms is essential to student success with grade-level content and skills. However, how can we effectively support student understanding of these important words– by using a math word wall!

What is a math word wall? 

Much like the word walls we see when students are developing sight words and high-frequency words, a math word wall is a collection of words that is updated as students encounter new vocabulary and terms. Now, I know you’re thinking, “Space is at a premium in my classroom!” I totally get that, so, here are a few different ways to create a math word wall space in your classroom:

  • Use a large wall or other large space to display the letters of the alphabet. Then display the words under each letter. See the pictures to the right for examples. The top picture is from my seventh-grade math class and the next picture is from my fourth-grade classroom.
  • Create unit-specific or topic-specific boards on poster boards. This method is great if you have limited space. See the picture on the bottom right for an example.
  • I’ve also made a portable word wall with butcher paper wrapped around a clothes hanger (kind of like the hanger is wearing a long t-shirt). I mostly used this method for my science words because I already had one, sometimes two, large word walls.

How Do I Use a Math Word Wall?

Through my 16 years in education, I have learned that students retain vocabulary much better when they review the words weekly through a variety of activities. The word wall will then become an integral part of your instruction when used regularly.

One of the activities with which I have found a great deal of success is called “I’m Thinking of a Word Wall Word.” Once a week, I take 5 – 10 minutes out of the day to review the words. I choose a word to define and say, “I’m thinking of a word wall word that means (insert the definition here).” I then ask students to raise their hands to respond with the correct word. I repeat the process for 4 – 9 additional words. Over time, with regular use of this activity, my students have become more proficient with their math vocabulary.

This is just one of the many ways a math word wall can help your students become more proficient with their math vocabulary and terms. Want more activities and ideas? Click the image below to download a free eBook!

Sound Off! How do you help your students become proficient with math vocabulary and terms?

Shametria Routt Banks

Shametria Routt Banks

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