Math requires students to understand new terminology because common words and phrases can have mathspecific meanings. Many words (such as “plus” and “equals”) are so common and important that we use symbols rather than words. Teaching precise mathematical language will help your students to think more carefully about their ideas and the ideas of their peers. The strategies below provide a strong foundation for differentiating instruction.
Best Practices with Technology
Step 1: Provide Clear Explanations

When introducing new vocabulary, give your students examples that fit the definitions, as well as nonexamples that don’t quite fit. Ask the students to decide whether a given item is an example or nonexample. Point out that the precision of the definition will help them to decide if an item is an example or nonexample.
Examples of talking explicitly Example 1: Begin by defining a square as a foursided figure, and then ask students to give you a nonexample of a square that fits this definition. Continue to build the definition with them until it is precise enough to account for all cases of squares but will not allow for any other shape.
 Example 2: Define a polygon as a closed figure with straight sides. Now show students some figures that almost—but don’t quite—match the definition. For example, show them an open figure with straight sides or a closed semicircle. Ask students to point out how the definition fits and how it does not.
 Have students create an online glossary of unitrelated words. Have students work in pairs initially, and then use a followup class discussion to help students shape an accurate class definition with examples and illustrations.
 Introduce new vocabulary words through explanations, examples, and illustrations. For terms that students don’t already know, devote some time to thinking about and discussing their meanings. For terms that refer to objects, students can use tech tools to explore and experiment with examples, even before learning the definitions (e.g., using a dynamic geometry program when learning about different types of polygons).
IES Recommendations
Instruction during the intervention should be explicit and systematic. This includes providing models of proficient problem solving, verbalization of thought processes, guided practice, corrective feedback, and frequent cumulative review.
Interventions should include instruction on solving word problems that is based on common underlying structures
Teach number and operations using a developmental progression.
Step 2: Give Students Strategies and Models
 When supplying examples and nonexamples, be sure to vary unimportant aspects such as size, shape, and spatial orientation. For example, when you define a rhombus for your students, make sure to show them squares. If they don’t see squares when first learning what a rhombus is, they may conclude that squares are not rhombuses at all, rather than realizing that they are special rhombuses (see UDL Checkpoint 3.4: Maximize transfer and generalization.
 Have each student create and regularly update his or her own glossary. If students stumble over the meaning of a word when providing an explanation, refer them to their glossaries rather than defining the word for them again.
 Keep a “word wall”—in a spot that all students can see at all times—that displays important vocabulary for a particular unit.
Creating a word wall
 Add new terms to the wall as you define them and students add them to their glossaries.
 Point students to the word wall so that they can choose the proper terms when describing their ideas and solutions to problems, or when they have questions.
 When students use imprecise language, have them find a more precise term on the wall and explain why it is a “more correct” term.
IES Recommendations
Intervention materials should include opportunities for students to work with visual representations of mathematical ideas and interventionists should be proficient in the use of visual representations of mathematical ideas.
Help students recognize that fractions are numbers and that they expand the number system beyond whole numbers. Use number lines as a central representational tool in teaching this and other fraction concepts from the early grades onward.
Source: IES Practice Guide: Developing Effective Fractions Instruction for Kindergarten Through 8th Grade
Instruction during the intervention should be explicit and systematic. This includes providing models of proficient problem solving, verbalization of thought processes, guided practice, corrective feedback, and frequent cumulative review.
Help students understand why procedures for computations with fractions make sense.
Source: IES Practice Guide: Developing Effective Fractions Instruction for Kindergarten Through 8th Grade
Step 3: Provide Ongoing Formative Assessment
 Give your students opportunities to talk about their mathematical thinking and listen to how they use mathematical terminology. Ask your students to paraphrase what you or other students have said. When students use informal language, point to the word wall and ask them to rephrase using the mathematical term or ask a classmate to rephrase.
 Employ a twostep strategy when a student doesn’t understand something you (or another student) have said that includes math terms. First, make sure the student understands the terms by asking about their meaning. If you can clarify the terms, prompt the student to use the definition to paraphrase the statement or idea in question.
 Consider each student’s needs and learning styles when you decide what actions you will take to move students closer to the learning goals. Whatever actions you take, give students time to ask you questions, share their thinking, and respond to the feedback you provide.
Moving students closer to learning goals
 For some students, it might work best for you to provide feedback individually.
 Other students might benefit from you sharing feedback with them as a group.
 Some or all of your students might need you to review part of the lesson.