How to Support ELL Students in Math

Constructing an effective learning environment!

Our Mission Statement:

Math is often seen as a universal subject, however all across the province our English language learners are struggling in the math classroom. As a result it is our mission to better accommodate and modify our math classrooms to meet the needs of our English language learners. Numbers may be numbers in any language, but the words and strategies we use to teach math are vastly different.

What is an English Language Learner?

According to the Ministry of Education:

English language learners are students in provincially funded English language

schools whose first language is a language other than English, or is a variety

of English that is significantly different from the variety used for instruction in

Ontario’s schools, and who may require focussed educational supports to assist

them in attaining proficiency in English.

These students may be Canadian born or recently arrived from other countries.

They come from diverse backgrounds and school experiences, and have a wide

variety of strengths and needs.

Important Information to Acquire before Planning your Math Program:

  • Information about your ELL students prior schooling: Such as did they attend formal schooling, at what grade level have they worked at, are they coming from limited to no prior schooling, how much instruction in English were they receiving if any.
  • What STEP level are your ELL students working at based on their initial assessment or ongoing assessments.
  • What were your ELL students past experiences with the school system or teachers (if coming from a different country as these students may have various social and psychological needs).
  • What are your ELL students prior knowledge and interests

Creating an Inclusive Math Environment

It is important to create an inclusive, safe, and welcoming math environment. So that all of our students including our English Language Learners can take risks, and engage in the classroom.

An inclusive math environment to support our English language learners will include the following:

  • A math word wall as pictured below
  • Allows the use of concrete manipulative as pictured below
  • Allows our ELL students to use their primary language when learning and whenever possible through the use of online translators or bilingual dictionaries (pictured below)
  • Builds on our students prior knowledge and experiences, taking into consideration vocabulary they may need to learn. Also not using examples which our ELL students may have never experienced, but may be familiar in the Canadian context
  • Uses our students interests whenever possible
  • Pairing our ELL students who may speak the same primary language, or creating a buddy system
  • Ensuring our ELL students culture and language is recognized and celebrated in the classroom through learning materials, and examples

Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction

Teachers should plan their math program using the Universal Design for Learning so that our ELL students will not feel singled out or isolated for getting extra help. With UDL teachers try to plan using all their students strengths and needs, as well as prior knowledge, interests, and experiences. In order to specifically meet the needs of our English language learners teachers can do the following:

  • Allowing our ELL students to use their primary language in the math classroom, and have the content translated later
  • Providing math examples and problems that relate to our ELL students prior knowledge and real life experiences
  • Giving our ELL students opportunity to practice their oral language by incorporating them into flexible and dynamic groupings
  • Pre-teaching our ELL students the math vocabulary being used
  • Providing a personal bilingual picture dictionary that outlines key math vocabulary
  • Ensure we are teaching in our ELL students zone of proximal development
  • Scaffolding learning with the use of graphic organizers and one-on-one support
  • Allow the use of math games online, speech recognition software, and online bilingual dictionaries
  • Providing chunking of assessments and extra time
  • Assessment through scribing, orally, and through observation
  • Use of concrete manipulative such as interlocking cubes, counters, hundreds chart, or personally relevant materials
  • Having manipulatives and areas in the classroom labelled with our ELL students primary language
  • Simplify vocabulary and sentence structure
  • Provide lots of visual support having them near by for the student to look at when needed and using non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, and gestures
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ISSN 1913-1100 What Works? Research Into Practice (Online)

Learning for All. (2013). Ministry of Education

Many Roots, Many Voices Supporting English Language Learners in Every Classroom. Ministry of Education

STEP Steps to English Proficiency A Guide for Users. Ministry of Education

Supporting English Language Learners A Practical Guide for Ontario Educators Grades 1 -8. Ministry of Education

The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8 Mathematics. (2005). Ministry of Education