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Helping English Language Learners with Math

Although math is often said to be a universal language, for many English Language Learners, achieving success in math is not as easy as it may initially seem. Mathematics has an academic language of its own that can be challenging to master when students are not being taught in their native language. ELL students, whose numbers are growing the US, must be able to follow directions, read word problems, explain their thought processes on paper and orally, and understand vocabulary that is unique to math. There are various methods for helping English Language Learners with math, and educators can use them to increase these students’ math proficiency and set them up for success later in life.

1. Vocabulary lists

All students must learn about specific math vocabulary (everything from the different types of triangles to what a theorem is), but math strategies for ELL students may require a bit more attention to be paid to this aspect of instruction. Teachers can construct helpful vocabulary lists to be paired with each lesson. Students can then reference these lists as they tackle new and challenging math concepts.

2. KWL charts

Nearly all teachers are familiar with KWL (know, want to know, learn) charts. These handy educational tools can be employed across a number of subjects, and are particularly effective when it comes to math strategies for secondary English language Learners. As students read problems and work through them, first have them identify what they know for sure, then what they need to find out and what they learned through the process. This will help them dissect each math problem in order to fully understand what they are learning.

3. Adaptive learning programs

ELLs require specialized attention when learning, and schools may not have the resources to assign a teaching aid to every single classroom. To combat this issue, many districts are instead using adaptive learning programs to give ELLs the differentiated math instruction they need. This way, the students can stay in the same classroom as their peers without feeling rushed and will get the extra help they need to fully comprehend math concepts.

4. Manipulatives

Manipulatives can be employed by teachers to help ELLs learn about and explore new math concepts in a way that is more hands-on and less language dependent. Using manipulatives, ELLs and their peers can construct concrete models of abstract mathematical ideas. This not only makes math easier to comprehend, but also promotes critical thinking and makes the lessons more exciting and enjoyable.

To learn more about how you can improve the math proficiency of ELLs, check out this free whitepaper from DreamBox Learning.