Encouraging literacy in maths lessons 

Literacy in maths lessons

There we were, all 12 of us, an axiom of maths teachers, my choice of collective noun although, Im told by the all informing google that the real collective noun for teachers is a faculty, I digress, we have to use literacy in maths . The combined sighs of derision from an entire maths department.

So our complaining begins with how often our students lose marks when the word explain occurs due to, waffled inconclusive and contradictory explanations. No more complaining , we must adress it.

The national curriculum statement about literacy and language encourages :

1. general accuracy in using language -spoken, written and read; 

2. technical terms and concepts appropriate to the subject;

3. awareness of patterns of language.

So let me see, what did we do? We obviously embraced it!  

Mathematics vocabulary, using the correct terminology, using the correct synonyms!  

Add, plus, calculate ,compute, reckon, enumerate, figure, count, cast, sum. (Just my simple example – thank you Roget)

A colleague suggested spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in learning outcomes, interesting how often students don’t initially know the plural terminology for a number of words within mathematics.  

So, the learning outcomes, ask students to tell you where, not wear or were, the mistakes are hidden (quickly ensures the correct homophone is used) and ask the students to correct the errors. That’s an easy yet effective literacy activity. 

We can, of course, use literacy within learning to extend vocabulary, no one can ever know too few words. Angles and angels?  

Vocabulary walls and general vocabulary displays, key words hi lighted and enhanced. 

(include a student area where students can take responsibility for their own progress, words requested by students can be displayed, almost encourage a maths word of the week approach)

So from extending our worldly vocabulary to my personal favourite, extending vocabulary through discussion. As an advocate of group work, I really believe that discussion expands your vocabulary and your mind. The art of listening to other opinions and discussing those opinions, being able to disagree properly is a skill that students will use in their speaking and listening. Students should always be encouraged to discuss the ideas identified in questions and highlight the specific mathematical content. At a previous school we actively encouraged the use of yellow highlighters or underlining with a pencil. We wanted to make sure that students had read the questions properly and were able to identify important mathematical words and terms.  

Moving forward, as we have already identified, a key skill where we can help enhance literacy within mathematics lessons is learning how to actually answer questions. Being able to interpret questions and learning what examiners are looking for when they use specific wording and terminology. We can aide literacy by knowing the meaning of words and mathematical terminology. 

Students can become familiar with the patterns used in language by explaining their conclusions to others, and by being able to identify the statements involved in mathematical reasoning and proof.  

Another easy literacy hook is to set commonly misspelt maths words as passwords on things like @mathswatch.  

As usual I have looked up literacy in maths articles, most are way better than mine and deserve a read or two.   







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