University of Oregon

What role does vocabulary play in learning mathematics?


How can mathematics vocabulary be taught by teachers, and what strategies can students use for learning math vocabulary? Many of the studies we have discovered so far have focused on specific literacy methods teachers can use when teaching math vocabulary, and reinforce the belief that literacy is important when students learn math vocabulary. These strategies include both traditional and creative tools for memorizing math vocabulary, some of which include the use of digital tools. Most studies highlight the importance of the need for the awareness and the understanding math vocabulary in order to achieve success in mathematics.

The materials we have collected thus far about vocabulary development in mathematics are listed below. We welcome your comments on this topic and additions to this list.

Initial References:

Banerjee, B. (2010). The Effects of Using Diagramming as a Representational Technique on High School Students’ Achievement in Solving Math Word Problems (Doctoral Dissertation (Ed.D.)). ProQuest LLC.

Barger, K. (2010). Nine Actions to Build Students’ Mathematics Abilities (Descriptive) (p. 8). Atlanta, GA: Southern Regional Education Board.

Barton, M. L., & Heidema, C. (2000). Teaching Reading in Mathematics: A Supplement to “Teaching Reading in the Conent Areas Teacher’s Manual (2nd Ed.).”

Bay-Williams, J. M., & Livers, S. (2009). Supporting Math Vocabulary Acquisition. Teaching Children Mathematics, 16(4), 238–245.

Blessman, J., & Myszczak, B. (2001, May). Mathematics Vocabulary and Its Effect on Student Comprehension. Retrieved from

Bresser, R., Melanese, K., & Sphar, C. (2009). Equity for Language Learner: Reflect and Discuss. Teaching Children Mathematics, 16(3), 170–177.

Burns, M. (2007). Nine Ways to Catch Kids up. Educational Leadership, 65(3), 16–21.

Calderón, M. (2007). Teaching reading to English language learners, grades 6-12: a framework for improving achievement in the content areas. Corwin Press.

Chard, D. (n.d.). Vocabulary Strategies for the Mathematics Classroom. Houghton Mifflin Math.

Charity Preston. (March 08). Individualized Math Vocabulary - Part 1 - The Organized Classroom Blog. The Organized Classroom Blog. Blog. Retrieved January 11, 2012, from

Coggins, D., Kravin, D., Coates, G. D., & Carroll, M. D. (2007). English Language Learners in the Mathematics Classroom. Corwin Press, A SAGE Publications Company.

Curtis, F. D. (1944). The mathematical vocabulary used in secondary-school textbooks of science. The Journal of Educational Research, 38(2), 124–131.

Diller, D. (2011). Math Work Stations: Independent Learning You Can Count On, K-2. Stenhouse Publishers, Portland, ME.

Draper, R. J. (1997). Jigsaw: Because Reading Your Math Book Shouldn’t Be a Puzzle. Clearing House, 71(1), 33–36.

Eichleay, K. (2006, May). Math Supports for Diverse Learners. Boston Public Schools Access Technology Center. Retrieved from

Fitzgerald, T. (2002). The Absolutely Essential Math Dictionary: Every Kid’s Guide to Mathematical Terms, Strategies and Tables. Dandy Lion Publications, San Luis Obispo, CA

Fletcher, M., & Santoli, S. (2003). Reading To Learn Concepts in Mathematics: An Action Research Project. Retrieved from

Fogelberg, E., Skalinder, C., Satz, P., Hiller, B., Bernstein, L., & Vitantonio, S. (2008). Integrating Literacy and Math: Strategies for K-6 Teachers. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Freeman, B., & Crawford, L. (2008). Creating a Middle School Mathematics Curriculum for English-Language Learners. Remedial and Special Education, 29(1), 9–19.

Gifford, M., & Gore, S. (2010). The Effects of Focused Academic Vocabulary Instruction on Underperforming Math Students (p. 13). Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.

Hunter, R. (2010). Coming to “Know” Mathematics through “Acting, Talking and Doing” Mathematics. Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia. Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia. Individualized Math Vocabulary - Part 1. (2011).

Jennings, C. M., Jennings, J. E., Richey, J., & Dixon-Krauss, L. (1992). Increasing interest and achievement in mathematics through children’s literature. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 7(2), 263–276. doi:10.1016/0885-2006(92)90008-M

Jones, C. J. (2001). CBAs that Work: Assessing Students’ Math Content-Reading Levels. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 34(1), 24–28.

Kenney, J. M., Hancewicz, E., Heuer, L., Metsisto, D., & Tuttle, C. L. (2005). Literacy Strategies for Improving Mathematics Instruction. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Kiplinger, V. L., Haug, C. A., & Abedi, J. (2000). Measuring Math--Not Reading--on a Math Assessment: A Language Accommodations Study of English Language Learners and Other Special Populations. Retrieved from

Kovarik, M. (2010). Building Mathematics Vocabulary. International Journal for Mathematics Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from

Larson, C. (2007, July). The Importance of Vocabulary Instruction in Everyday Mathematics (MAT Degree). University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Lee, F. Y., Silverman, F. L., & Montoya, P. (2002). Assessing the Math Performance of Young ESL Students. Principal, 81(3), 29–31.

Leung, C. (2005). Mathematical vocabulary: Fixers of knowledge or points of exploration. Language and Education, 19(2), 127–135.

Louis Ferriera Nascimento, M., & Barco, L. (2007). How Does Mathematics Look to You? Education Canada, 47(2), 66–68,

Mead, K. C. (2006). A String of Beads. Teaching Pre K-8, 36(4), 54–55.

Miller, J. E. (2010). Quantitative Literacy across the Curriculum: Integrating Skills from English Composition, Mathematics, and the Substantive Disciplines. Educational Forum, 74(4), 334–346.

Morgan, B., & Odom, D. (2006). Stories from Tween Classrooms. Educational Leadership, 63(7), 38–41.

Moseley, B. (2005). Pre-Service Early Childhood Educators’ Perceptions of Math-Mediated Language. Early Education and Development, 16(3), 385–398.

Mulryan, C., & Close, J. S. (1982). A study of the mathematical vocabulary of primary school mathematics textbooks. Irish Educational Studies, 2, 305–321. doi:10.1080/0332331820020120

Murray, M. (2004). Teaching mathematics vocabulary in context: windows, doors, and secret passageways. Portsmouth  NH: Heinemann.

Pierce, M. E., & Fontaine, L. M. (2009). Designing Vocabulary Instruction in Mathematics. Reading Teacher, 63(3), 239–243.

Popovici, D. (2008, 2009). Math Vocabulary.

Roberts, J. (2006). Solving Math Problems. Windows on Literacy: Language, Literacy & Vocabulary. National Geographic Society.

Robertson, K. (2009). Math Instruction for English Language Learners | ELL Topics from A-Z | Colorín Colorado. Colorin colorado. Retrieved October 19, 2011, from

Rothman, R., & Cohen, J. (1989). The language of math needs to be taught. Intervention in School and Clinic, 25(2), 133–142.

Roti, J., Trahey, C., & Zerafa, S. (2000, May). Improving Student Achievement in Solving Mathematical Word Problems. Retrieved from

Sanders, S. P. (2007). Embedded strategies in mathematics vocabulary instruction: A quasi-experimental study (Doctoral Dissertation). Clemson University.

Schell, V. J. (1982). Learning partners: Reading and mathematics. The reading teacher, 35(5), 544–548.

Shirley, G. R. (2010). The Use of a Mathematics Professional Learning Community Uniting Math 1 and Math Support Teachers (Doctoral Dissertation).

Siena, M. (2009). From Reading to Math: How Best Practices in Literacy Can Make You a Better Math Teacher, Grades K-5. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions.

Swanson, P. E. (2010). The Intersection of Language and Mathematics. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 15(9), 516–523.

Thompson, D. R., & Rubenstein, R. N. (2000). Learning mathematics vocabulary: Potential pitfalls and instructional strategies. MATHEMATICS TEACHER-WASHINGTON, 93(7), 568–577.

Topping, K. J., Campbell, J., Douglas, W., & Smith, A. (2003). Cross-Age Peer Tutoring in Mathematics with Seven- and 11-year-olds: Influence on Mathematical Vocabulary, Strategic Dialogue and Self-Concept. Educational Research, 45(3), 287–308.

Van Sickle, M., & Blake, M. (2000). A Civil Rights Issue? Vocabulary Development in Math and Science. Retrieved from

Vincent, J. (2009). Linguistic Factors Affecting Correct Responses to Word Problems in Mathematics.

Wells, C. G. (n.d.). Teaching Mathematics Vocabulary Using Hands-On Activities.

Whitin, P. E., & Whitin, D. J. (1997). Ice Numbers and Beyond: Language Lessons for the Mathematics Classroom. Language Arts, 74(2), 108–15.

Whitin, P., & Whitin, D. J. (2000). Math Is Language Too: Talking and Writing in the Mathematics Classroom. National Council of Teachers of English.

Zazkis, R., & Leikin, R. (2008). Exemplifying definitions: a case of a square. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 69(2), 131–148. doi:10.1007/s10649-008-9131-7