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Developing literacy in secondary mathematics

Added 12 May 2023


Why is literacy important for improving mathematical understanding?

Mathematics has a language all of its own – not just its own vocabulary but the way sentences and maths questions are structured. Pupils who struggle with language, literacy or maths will make better progress if teachers can be explicit about how maths language and literacy works.

How this resource can help

This resource is designed for secondary mathematics teachers and school literacy coordinators. It explores the range of specific literacy skills that students need to engage fully with the subject and that will help them gain a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts.

In particular, the resource addresses the following literacy skills areas related to understanding mathematics:

  • Speaking and listening in the mathematics classroom, also called talk for learning.
  • Specialised mathematics vocabulary (tier three) often derived from Latin or Greek roots
  • Familiar everyday words which have specific mathematical meanings
  • Reading mathematical discourse – understanding the way paragraphs and sentences are organised, particularly in word problems
  • Writing mathematically – setting out question workings and writing explanations

Furthermore, it includes example activity ideas from National Literacy Trust member school, Slough and Eton Church of England Business and Enterprise College, plus further reading suggestions and a helpful number prefix reference list.

Access to these resources requires a whole-school premium membership – log in now or learn more about membership.

Download resources from the Available files list on this page.

Literacy in mathematics CPD

If you are a maths teacher, or a school literacy lead seeking to support colleagues and provide students with subject-specific literacy skills, then please explore our Developing literacy in mathematics secondary CPD.

Held over two 90-minute sessions the course includes a more in-depth exploration of the specific literacy skills required for students to achieve in mathematics, and equips teachers with strategies and resources to develop literacy for learning mathematics in their own classroom.

Learn more about literacy in mathematics CPD Discover our full range of secondary CPD

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