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Maths Terminology – Easy Tips for teachers & pupils

Understanding basic maths terminology can actively help pupils gather a better understanding of maths.

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Maths Terminology

It is important for children to use correct mathematical vocabulary and have an understanding of what these terms mean.

Simply, before a student can start to solve a problem, they must first understand that problem.

Understanding can take many forms, but the most basic is understanding the language used.

How can you “calculate the area of the square”, when you don’t know what “calculate” means or “square” means?

There is an even more important reason: mathematical language is crucial to children’s development of thinking. If children don’t have the vocabulary to talk about maths, they will struggle to make progress in understanding these areas of mathematics.

Maths Terminology- National Curriculum

The National Curriculum supports the idea that accurate use of language is fundamental in understanding mathematics: 

Pupils who are struggling

maths terminology

How do you know when a student is struggling (1) because they don’t understand the language used or (2) because they don’t understand the mathematics?

I am afraid the answer is by being extremely sensitive to what they write and say.

In their worksheets, are they adding when they should be subtracting?

In class discussions, are they avoiding using words such as difference or product, or are they misusing words that have a different meaning in spoken English – Odd, table?

Students that struggle with the language will shy away from discussing it.

Tips for Developing Maths Terminology

There are four basic ways we can use any language:

Listening  – Students listen to teachers talking, presenting and explaining and to their peers.

Reading – Students read textbooks, worksheets, and displays.

Writing – Students present their work by writing (and perhaps drawing).

Speaking – Students ask questions and present their ideas. 

Teachers often use informal, everyday language in mathematics lessons before and alongside mathematical vocabulary.

  • This can help children grasp a new concept or meaning, but it should not be relied upon in the medium to long term.
  • A structured approach to the learning of vocabulary is essential if children are to use the correct maths terminology.

The introduction of new words needs explicit planning.

The Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract approach is great in response to this as new words should be provided in context. For example- With relevant real objects.


  • Explain the word meanings carefully and use them again and again. 
  • Try and reconnect to previous topics. 
  • Don’t fall back into informal language, they need to understand the proper language to access the maths.


  • Make sure your pupils are going to see the word (in context).
  • For example: On your whiteboard, in their textbook, on their worksheet or on a classroom display.
  • List antonyms and synonyms on your working wall.


  • Use every opportunity to get students to write out the relevant words correctly and then get those words upon your working wall. 
  • Have pupils label diagrams, write a description of the football league table and permutations after the next match, make their own maths dictionary.


  • Encourage the use of the new word in context in discussions by effective questioning (both open and closed) in groups and as a class. 

Maths Terminology- Emile

Due to talking at an event (Maths HUB Meeting) back in January. 

We noticed that a lot of teachers were having the same issue with pupils understanding and learning their Maths Terms. 

That is why we created a BRAND NEW world to our Learn with Emile App- Caramella.

Where your pupils can taste the sweet knowledge of Maths Terms with Emile, but them to the test in solo or multiplayer mode. 

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