Reading math questions is very different to reading regular literacy texts. “Not being able to read the question” is the number 1 reason, given by teachers, for their kids not doing well at maths. This is a really surprising, as the kids are generally doing well at “reading”. So why do kids find reading math problems difficult?

There are actually a number of reasons why kids find reading maths difficult that are not linked to reading ages:

- Math text is not the same as that in novels. It’s dense and includes symbols and graphics.
- Fewer words are used for setting a context compared to very detailed paragraphs in novels
- The meaning of words changes significantly in math problems compared to how they are used in everyday life. E.g. volume might mean the sound control on a T.V. remote but in mathematics it is linked to measurement.
- Many words in maths have more than one meaning, that changes in different contexts, e.g. square is a shape, but can also be a square number.
- Some words are unique to maths which means students cannot take an informed guess as to the meaning. E.g. numerator and denominator.

So spending time on building math vocabulary is an important part of mathematical achievement.

In fact much research (Swan & Dunstan; Hirsh & Nation;) has been conducted about the importance of teaching vocabulary and the impact on achievement. The research highlights:

- vocabulary is connected with reading comprehension and is predictor of students’ comprehension
- Students need to know 90-95% of the words in a text before they can comprehend that text
- Vocabulary need to be explicitly taught first
- Students from low socio economic areas need greater support
- Teaching math vocabulary can help raise student achievement levels
- Students with high vocabularies are better at mathematical reasoning

In summary, the benefits of teaching mathematical vocabulary will impact students level of achievement and must be included in every math unit.