Vocabulary: Common Core Geometry’s first real hiccup

So, my student’s last Geometry unit test force a realization. Computational math classes, which my students have all had up until this point, generally are not focused on vocabulary.

I’ll give you an example:

Suppose a typical Algebra I teacher asks his or her students to solve 3x + 7 = 28. How would they do it?

Well, for the most part, they will probably add seven to both sides of the equal sign. Then, after dividing both sides of the equal sign by three, the answer would be x = 7.

Before this year, I would have been content to accept that as a “full-credit-answer.” My students would have never been expected to know that the reasons that those steps are effective. Namely, the subtraction and division properties of equality.

However, on this most recent unit test for Common Core Geometry, each of the six questions required written explanations. Written explanations require vocabulary. Sometimes a lot of it. And it needs to be used properly.

The first real hiccup in our version of the Common Core Geometry is that this math teacher is not used to having to facilitate the deep understanding of technical vocabulary. I’ve taught skills, procedures, and technical reading, but I’ve never required my students to need to know the vocab as well as they do now. Previous geometry courses that I’ve taught have still been so algebraic that if the students didn’t learn the vocab, they could still get by doing the crazy amount of algebra.

This year, the vocab has taken center stage… and the students aren’t the only ones needing to adjust.

Please add to the comments any tips or pointers you might have in helping develop deep and flexible understandings of math vocabulary.


7 thoughts on “Vocabulary: Common Core Geometry’s first real hiccup

  1. Pictures with vocabulary? Quizlet online flashcards. Games with flashcards where one stduent reads definitions and others guess words? A few surface level thoughts. Ask you english dept!

  2. Mr. Shauver,
    I just came across this blog over the weekend. I’ll probably keep up with it now that I have found it. After a strange series of events I found myself teaching math also, and now I’m really enjoying my geometry class.

    As we are introducing Common Core standard out here in Idaho I have found the same challenges with my Geometry students. My geometry class class is also quite heavy on the Algebra. I’m trying to challenge myself to do a better job of teaching the geometric concepts and relationships. This has brought vocabulary to the forefront for me as well. The following link is a method that our school is using. To me, it isn;t perfect but the third step has helped a lot of students connect the vocabulary to background knowledge.


    • Thanks Rob! This looks like a nice step guide for folks like me. I’ve been doing some of those steps (most, actually) but I never conceptualized a sequence, so I’ll share this. It looks useful.

      Please feel free to steal anything you think you could use for your geometry class. I ask only that when you use it, if you change it to make it better, you share your experiences.

      Also, if you have any other resources to share, by all means, bring ’em!

      Thanks again. Oh, and you don’t have to call me Mr. Shauver… I think acting along side of me in high school affords us a first-name basis.

  3. Good ways to build vocabulary include: talk for learning- facilitate discussions, get them to use proper terminology, give them dictionaries if necessary. Crosswords and word searches are also good. Collective memory tasks (teams of 3, one scribe, the other two take turns to come look at a picture for 30 seconds and then describe it to scribe who tries to recreate the picture), these get them used to using the correct word. Also, I play a forbidden words game (based on the board game taboo), pupils have to describe something, but aren’t allowed to use certain words. Another game is writing a word on a board behind a pupil, and have them try to word it out by asking a pre defined number of question I use twenty) that must elicit a yes no answer.

    • I use “talk for learning” although that is the first time I’ve heard it given that name.

      I like the idea of Taboo also, although upon first glance the set-up seems awfully time-consuming. I would be excited to find out that I’m wrong about that.

      That last suggestion, the twenty questions is a good one, too. I have two white boards, so it seems like the engagement could be really high on that one.

      Thanks for the suggestions.

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