How Do I Teach 6th Grade Math Vocabulary?

'Doing' math isn't enough; students must also be able to 'describe' how to solve math problems, which requires using math vocabulary. Math vocabulary is useful because it provides a common language and can ensure that explanations are accurate. Therefore, math vocabulary is an important part of teaching math.

Find available tutors

Teaching Math Vocabulary to Sixth Graders

Vocabulary in Every Lesson

Because math vocabulary is essential for good math communication, it is important to include it in every math lesson. This includes teaching new vocabulary, using accurate terms whenever discussing problems and playing vocabulary review games before tests.

Teach Vocabulary First

Research has shown that students grasp concepts better if the math vocabulary has been specifically taught ( Therefore, when you teach the vocabulary at the beginning of a lesson, as an introduction to a new concept, you're preparing your students to use the new information to the fullest. When you model a new concept, label the work with the terms. For example, before you show a problem such as 48 ÷ 6 = 8, write Dividend ÷ Divisor = Quotient. Then write the problem with the numbers under the correct term.

Tie New Concepts to Familiar Ones

No matter what grade students are in, they already know facts that can be compared to new math information. Find ways to tie the new concepts to what they already know to make the new information less intimidating. For instance, if you're presenting fractions, they may already know that four quarters or ten dimes are the same as one dollar. If the new information is about parallelograms, they may already be familiar with the parallel bars that athletes use.

Use Repetition

Most students need to hear a word 10-11 times in order to learn it; if the students have a learning disability, that number rises to as high as 40 ( Expose students to the words through different contexts. Repeating the terms every single time you do a problem is helpful because you're giving the students repeated exposure to the term; however, that's only one medium. Other contexts might include having the students:

  • Write the definition in their own words
  • Draw pictures depicting the term
  • Play games that use the terms
  • Read or write stories that include the term
  • Sing songs about the terms
  • Make their own flashcards or notebook of the terms

Compare and Contrast Terms

Showing how a new term is similar or different to other terms is also helpful. For example, compare rational numbers with irrational numbers. A rational number can be written as a simple fraction or ratio (e.g., 2/3). An irrational numbers can't be written so simply, and is written as a decimal number.

Probably the best known irrational number is pi, which is approximately 3.1415. In this comparison, have the students write examples of other rational numbers (e.g., 13/3) and irrational numbers (e.g., the square root of two, which is approximately 1.4142).

Use Terms in Other Contexts

Encourage students to use the terms in other contexts. For example, at lunch time they might say something like, 'The sum of the sandwiches in the lunch room is 49.' Or after gym, 'The difference between the 3 baskets John made and the 5 Eric made is 2.' Or 'We had pizza last night and I ate 1/4 of it.'

Use the Proper Labels

Descriptive phrases like turning the fraction upside down for reciprocal sometimes become substitutes for the real vocabulary term. This method may not be beneficial because students are defining of word rather than using the word itself. The teacher must use - and expect the students to use - the correct terms consistently.

Include Vocabulary in Tests

Just as it's important that the students understand how to do a math operation, it's important that they can identify what that process is called. For example, students should know how to add 23 + 14, as well as the terms 'sum' and 'addition'. To be sure they know math vocabulary, include it in math tests. This will help ensure that they are able to accurately communicate mathematical concepts.

Did you find this useful? If so, please let others know!

Other Articles You May Be Interested In

  • More Blog Articles
    Elementary Math Help: 5th and 6th Grade

    Mathematics classes get increasingly difficult towards the end of elementary school. Learn how to help your fifth and sixth grade students improve their math skills.

  • More Blog Articles
    MIND Games Lead to Math Gains

    Imagine a math teaching tool so effective that it need only be employed twice per week for less than an hour to result in huge proficiency gains. Impossible, you say? Not so...and MIND Research Institute has the virtual penguin to prove it.

We Found 7 Tutors You Might Be Interested In

Huntington Learning

  • What Huntington Learning offers:
  • Online and in-center tutoring
  • One on one tutoring
  • Every Huntington tutor is certified and trained extensively on the most effective teaching methods
In-Center and Online


  • What K12 offers:
  • Online tutoring
  • Has a strong and effective partnership with public and private schools
  • AdvancED-accredited corporation meeting the highest standards of educational management
Online Only

Kaplan Kids

  • What Kaplan Kids offers:
  • Online tutoring
  • Customized learning plans
  • Real-Time Progress Reports track your child's progress
Online Only


  • What Kumon offers:
  • In-center tutoring
  • Individualized programs for your child
  • Helps your child develop the skills and study habits needed to improve their academic performance
In-Center and Online

Sylvan Learning

  • What Sylvan Learning offers:
  • Online and in-center tutoring
  • Sylvan tutors are certified teachers who provide personalized instruction
  • Regular assessment and progress reports
In-Home, In-Center and Online

Tutor Doctor

  • What Tutor Doctor offers:
  • In-Home tutoring
  • One on one attention by the tutor
  • Develops personlized programs by working with your child's existing homework
In-Home Only


  • What TutorVista offers:
  • Online tutoring
  • Student works one-on-one with a professional tutor
  • Using the virtual whiteboard workspace to share problems, solutions and explanations
Online Only

Our Commitment to You

  • Free Help from Teachers

  • Free Learning Materials

  • Helping Disadvantaged Youth