Summary: The semiotic approach to mathematics education introduces the notion of “semiotic system” as a tool to describe mathematical activity. The semiotic system is formed by the set of signs, the production rules of signs and the underlying meaning structures. In this paper, we present the notions of system of practices and configuration of objects and processes that complement the notion of semiotic system and help to understand the complex nature of mathematical objects. We also show in what sense these notions facilitate the description and comprehension of building and communicating mathematical knowledge, by applying them to analyze semiotic systems involved in the teaching and learning of some elementary arithmetic concepts.