I see this a lot with students, "solve this derivative", "solve this integral", "solve the following expression".

You can compute a derivative, evaluate an integral, simplify an expression, solve an equation. How do you encourage students to use more verbs other than just "solve" for everything?

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    $\begingroup$ What level do you teach? $\endgroup$
    – Amy B
    Nov 13, 2015 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ Getting the average student to use more than 200 words is an uphill battle... $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Nov 15, 2015 at 23:51
  • $\begingroup$ You could ay "What does that mean in English?" but that won't go well. Suppose you ask "What's the question that needs answering?" to which you may get "Well,to solve it." So, "To solve what?"..:"The expression.".. SO "Is the expression a question?" Gotcha. Maybe now the student will really listen when you tell them how to use ordinary words, as they often make this subject more difficult by trying to use jargon rather than plain speech. Richard Feynman (Nobel laureate--physics) said "When lecturing, if the cleaning lady looks at me with incomprehension, then I'n not saying it right. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2015 at 5:30

1 Answer 1


Every time a student uses it incorrectly, I quickly correct them. "You mean simplify this expression", or the like, and then go on to answer whatever question they meant to ask. Furthermore I verbally check in on the exact definition of "solution" multiple times. Some book exercises that I hand out occasionally have warm-up questions on this topic (Bittinger Intermediate Algebra, Martin-Gay Introductory Algebra). And every time I present an exercise on the board I always include a formal written direction, e.g., "Divide the polynomials and check", etc.

This encourages, but does not entirely solve, the problem. I suppose the next level of escalation would be to include it in some multiple-choice quiz questions, but to date I don't think its priority is high enough to bump another item out of my quizzes. The truth is students at this level rarely put effort into an issue unless points are on the line.


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