Ideas for Using Math Vocabulary & Math Word Walls

What’s Here

Math word walls and math vocabulary activities are becoming increasingly popular as research reveals that students are not doing well on standardized tests because they don’t know key terms. It’s important for kids to understand the language of math in order to understand directions and words problems, and to help them develop critical thinking skills. This page shares some fun and meaningful ways you can help students understand and utilize math vocabulary.

Math Word Walls and Word Games

I used this commercially-made palm tree to display math vocab.  After laminating, I wrote the name of a math unit on each palm branch in dry erase marker. Then, as we learned important terms, either a student or myself would write the vocabulary word on a parrot, which we stuck to the tree with sticky tack.  Every few months, I would erase some of the older math words to make room for new units.

We also played games with the word wall. As a class activity and then as an independent math center activity, I would move a few words to different branches. Students then reflected in writing on which words did not belong on which branch and why. They were also allowed to argue why a moved word DID belong on the new branch. After some practice with this, students worked together in pairs in the center. One child would move the parrots while the other child’s back was turned, and then the child who wasn’t looking would have to figure out which words were moved and explain verbally where they belonged.

Mini Math Word Wall

If you’re short on board space, you can use a mini bulletin board like this one (it’s about 12″ x 8″ and sits on top of a shelf).  Current words are displayed on the board, and older (and not yet taught) words are inside the index card file box, divided by chapter.  Anytime students say, “What’s a factor again?”, I direct them to the Math Words box to find out.

The cards themselves are from the teacher resource book that came with our math series- check your teacher’s editions to see if your math series provides something similar.  I laminated them and had 5th graders cut them out and organize them for me after school.

Sometimes in the math center, students would use the cards to quiz one another, challenging a partner to define each term in their own words. The ensuing debate over whether a child’s definition matched the textbook’s definition on the back of the card was often the most valuable part of the activity!

Students also created their own mini math word walls, making their own cards and keeping them in a baggie for reference.

Printable Math Word Wall Cards

One year I used these cards which are available for free download from my former school district. These are really cool because they give visual cues to students about the word’s meaning.

I have also used math word wall organization tips and math word wall games and activities from this resource.


Now What?

Tips for managing manipulatives and hands-on learningMain Math Page
Math Game Routines
Math Games/Center Ideas
Math Journals
Math KITs (Fact Practice Games)
Math Manipulatives
Easy and Creative Centers
Ideas for Free Centers
Setting Up Centers

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience. In 2009, she turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she's created 4 books, 2 webinars, a blog, podcast, curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Subscribe via email to get her best content and exclusive tips & tricks!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Catie August 4, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Hi. I have to know, where did you get your palm tree for your word wall? I love it! It’s such a great idea.



2 Angela Watson August 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Hi, Catie! I got it at a local teacher supply store. I don’t remember who makes it, but it wasn’t expensive!


3 michele January 2, 2013 at 9:34 am

Hi! I was wondering if you use the Math Word Wall in conjunction with writing activities in their math journal. Thank you for all of your useful information!


4 Angela Watson January 20, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Hi, Michelle! Yes, I have done that. Students often reference the math word wall to help them find and spell words correctly when using their math journals. The math word wall is a great tool for math journaling!


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