The Teacher Tip

Using Precise Language in Mathematics

January 10, 2017

Adapted from: Routines for Reasoning: Fostering the Mathematical Practices in All Students

by Grace Kelemanik, Amy Lucenta and Susan Janssen Creighton


When we talk about quantities in mathematics, we are referring to things that can be counted or measured; things that could be assigned a numeric value or variable. A quantity has three components: its value, its label, and its sign (positive or negative). We can describe quantities by using the phrase-starter “The number of_______” or “The amount of ______”.


When we talk about quantities with students, it’s typical to use and easy label for a quantity, such as “the red flowers” or “the purple flowers”.  However, with a more precise use of language, you can support students’ development of quantitative reasoning. Consider always carefully describing quantities with language that points to amounts and values. For example, instead of saying “red flowers” or “purple flowers, say “the number of red flowers” or “the number of purple flowers”.


To learn more about Routines for Reasoning, and to download a sample chapter, click here.


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