Some of your best math teaching tools are probably sitting in a cup on your desk or hiding in a bucket in the closet: highlighters, markers, and colored pencils! Color is one of our easiest ways to support understanding. Using color during instruction will keep students focused on the image they see and tie it to the words they hear you say; this counteracts the coding issues that plague many people with dyscalculia.

Here’s an example of how I connect color to a lesson on trig ratios. Many students, both with and without learning disabilities, have a hard time finding the “opposite” and “adjacent” sides when they set up sine, cosine, and tan ratios. When I draw a right triangle on the board, I use a highlighter to mark the theta, or reference, angle. Then we discuss how the color touches the adjacent side, but there is no color on the opposite side. We also talk about how the hypotenuse is always itself; always the diagonal line; always across from the 90-degree square (I repeat these three identifiers every time I mention the hypotenuse of a right triangle). After that, I have students use their own color to mark the theta angle on their practice problems or test questions before they set up their ratios.

So many times in math class, we explain, demonstrate, and show, but the information just doesn’t translate well to struggling students. This is especially true for students with dyscalculia. Connecting color with diagrams can help students connect vocabulary with formulas and concepts. Connecting color to different problem-solving steps highlights inverse operations. Connecting color to problems can help students see details like positive and negative signs, different exponents, or missing sides and angles.

When we work with students with learning disorders, we can’t assume they see what we want them to. We can’t assume they understand how a vocabulary word lines up with a diagram, formula, image, or word problem. However, we can give them visual cues that assist them in understanding how our words and our math work are connected. Connecting color to a lesson, and using color to prepare for problem solving, is an easy yet highly effective way to make math instruction clear and memorable. Try it today!

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