Grouping Symbols Reference Chart & Poster

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Grouping symbols are a difficult concept for math students to understand, so I created a free printable grouping symbols reference chart and poster for students to reference while in my algebra classroom.

What are grouping symbols?

Before students enter my math class, their familiarity with grouping symbols often only extends to parentheses. Elementary teachers often teach the order of operations using PEMDAS as a mnemonic device where the P stands for “Parentheses.”

As students go further in mathematics, they need to start seeing that grouping symbols can include a myriad of different mathematical symbols which group together mathematical operations which must be completed first during the order of operations.

It is for this reason that I have started using GEMDAS instead of PEMDAS with my algebra students. The G in GEMDAS stands for “Grouping Symbols.”

Examples of Mathematical Grouping Symbols

• Parentheses
• Brackets
• Braces
• Absolute Value Bars
• Fraction Lines/Bars (Also Called a Vinculum)

Free Printable Reference Chart

I created a free printable reference chart of these grouping symbols to provide students with a visual reminder of the various grouping symbols that they need to be on the lookout for when evaluating expressions according to the order of operations.

This reference chart can be found at the end of this post as a PDF.

I always tell my students that there are invisible parentheses inside a radical sign and around the numerator and denominator in a fraction.  To show that these are usually invisible, I used just the outline of the parentheses around them.

I also couldn’t miss the opportunity to share the fact that the line between a fraction is called a “vinculum” with my students.  I probably share this fun fact with each class at least ten times a year.

As for {braces}, I actually call them squiggly brackets in my classroom.  But, Wikipedia says they are also known as braces, and that definitely fits on the poster better.  If you call them something different, I’ve uploaded an editable version at the bottom of this post for you to customize.

Order of Operations Posters and Classroom Display

I also formatted the grouping symbols reference chart as a poster which I printed on 11 x 17 cardstock. I paired this chart with my GEMDAS Order of Operations Posters.

Over the years, my classroom decor has slowly been shifting from an emphasis on cute and motivational to an emphasis on math.  At least, that’s my goal.

I still want my room to be “cute,” but I also want my students to see a plethora of resources when they walk in my room.

That’s why they’ll find a horizontal number line, a vertical number line, the prime numbers under 100, the order of operations, a set of math symbols, the greek alphabet, the meaning of zero inside a fraction, place value, and perfect squares and perfect cubes hanging on my classroom walls.

What’s Wrong With PEMDAS?

My students almost always see the “P” in “PEMDAS” and think that they have to do parentheses and only parentheses first.  This includes doing parentheses that actually mean multiplication.

I’ve been emphasizing that “P” actually stands for “Grouping Symbols” the past couple of years and it seems to be helping.  Of course, I have to tell them that their 3rd grade teacher did have the best of intentions.

The only grouping symbol that would be showing up in their 3rd grade order of operations math problems were parentheses.

Instead of just telling students about grouping symbols, I’ve decided I need to give students a resource to look at to check and see if there are any grouping symbols in their problem. That’s where my reference chart and poster come in!

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1. Unknown says:

As I recall, the radical symbol is called a 'surd' and the bar over the contents is still a vinculum.
I like to call algebra 'surds for nerds' but that works better spoken.

1. Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove) says:

Now that you mention this, I remember reading this somewhere!

2. When Life Hands You Lemmas... says:

I learned after my first year of teaching that my students, too, only focused on parentheses. So, I made an interactive notebook page that is
G
E
MD
AS
instead. The G being for grouping symbols and we jot down some notes about different grouping symbols. But I totally love this poster!!!!!

1. Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove) says:

I'm very tempted to try this!

3. Math Dyal says:

I always call { } fancy brackets. My students are always complaining about how hard they are to draw.

1. Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove) says:

I like it! And, my students groan and complain about having to draw them, too!!!

4. Unknown says:

For my students who cant draw then and get stuck on that and can't seem to move forward, I have them draw a ( with a dash through it and they seem to like that a lot ..

1. Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove) says:

Brilliant!

5. Unknown says:

Sarah,

Thank you!

1. Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove) says:

E-mail sent!

6. Anonymous says:

I just found your site and love the ideas. Thank you for sharing these great activities and posters. Keep up the creativity!

1. Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove) says: