**Breaking the Language Barrier in Mathematics**
Tobey
Bassoff
Many math programs today, at least at the elementary school level, require
basic English language skills to decode math problems embedded in words. Here are a few strategies that
you may find useful to build number sense when language becomes problematic.
First of all, if a student is to understand the operation required, then they must have access to
the terminology. Make posters that link numbers to words. For example:
**Addition ( + ) ** |
**Subtraction ( - )** |
**Multiplication ( x ) ** |
**Division (÷)** |
how many
in all
all together how many
joined together
total more than product |
how many left
less than total
sum difference |
how many in all
times |
share equally
divided by
how many in each
same number in each |
A natural extension of the posters is to make small reference guides backed on construction
paper and laminated. You can pass them out to students who are struggling with a word
problem, or who need language support. An added feature to the card would be a guide to
cardinal and ordinal numbers. For example:
first - 1st
second - 2nd
third - 3rd
fourth - 4th
fifth - 5th
sixth - 6th
Another way to prepare students to solve problems involving words is to have
them draw a quick picture of what they think the question is asking. (This is much like planning for writing using pictures that tell the
beginning, middle, and end). Then, they can link the numbers to the picture. This
strategy has worked very well with my visual English and Spanish language learners.
Finally, use number talks to introduce vocabulary. Number talks is a strategy, used by
national math consultant Ruth Parker, adopted by my district that has students talk through
mental math. You put a problem on the board and you ask the students to put their thumbs up
in the air when they have the answer. (This avoids embarrassing/distracting the
students who still need time). When you decide that most of the class has the
answer, then you ask for answers. Write all the answers (up to three or five) on the board. Have each child talk through
his mental math process.
The discoveries that they make on their own is astounding and the language
learners pick up so much vocabulary. This is a very powerful way to get ESL students talking and connecting
mathematical language to actual operations.
Questions or comments? E-mail Tobey. |