Reading and writing mathematics

Els De Geest | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Identification - characteristic behaviours

All students need support with mathematical literacy. The characteristics listed below may indicate that a student needs help to overcome barriers to reading and writing mathematics. Not all students will exhibit all these characteristics. Students may experince barriers in writing, reading or talking mathematics and/or explaining their thinking processes.

Charcteristics of students who lack of fluency in mathematical literacy can include:

  • struggling to interpret mathematical sentences
  • struggling to write mathematical sentences, for example writing 'x' instead of '-'; getting the order in notation wrong;...
  • not remembering the meaning of mathematical words
  • not feeling confident to explain and describe their thinking in mathematics
  • confusing mathematical vocabulary with homonyms or with words with a non-mathematical meaning, for example in English confusing the words plane and plain, average, constant...

Numeracy can be described as:

'the ability to process, communicate and interpret numerical information in a variety of contexts.' (Askew et al., 1997)

Mathematical literacy can be described as:

The ability of a person to use reading, writing, speaking, listening to learn [the mathematics and mathematical thinking] they need/want to learn AND to communicate/demonstrate that learning to others who need/want to know. (adapted from Meltzer 2001, p16 quoted in Kersaint et al, 2013: 8)


  • Askew, M., Brown, M., Rhodes, V., Johnson, D. & Wiliam, D. (1997). Effective Teachers of Numeracy (London, King's College London).
  • Kersaint, G., Thompson, D. R., & Petkova, M. (2013). Teaching mathematics to English language learners (2nd Edition). New York: Routledge.
  • Meltzer, J. (2001). The adolescent literacy support framework. Providence, RI: Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University.