Texas Comprehensive Center

Previous Work
October 2005 through September 2012

These resources were published under a previous TXCC funding; therefore, information contained therein may have changed and is not updated.

English Language Learners Materials

What Can a Mathematics Teacher Do for the English Language Learner?


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Typical Characteristics of the Beginning Language Learner

  • Listening as opposed to speaking (Silent Period), uses yes/no responses
  • Responds in native language or nonverbally (points, nods)
  • May display avoidance behavior or affective filter may be high
  • Uses mostly concrete words and phrases from a limited bank of high-frequency, high-need words or uses short phrases with slow speech
  • Copies, labels, displays limited writing skills in the target language
  • Finds mathematics text to be incomprehensible except for numerals and a few cognate words associated with the student’s prior academic experience
  • Solves math problems using a different or alternate approach
  • May find math symbols confusing (i.e., placement of commas and decimals)
  • May have social English language ability but academic language is very limited

(Adapted from Jameson, 1998; Texas Education Agency, 2006b.)

Some Suggested Strategies

  • Use a lot of gestures and encourage—but do not force—students to speak.
  • Build student confidence by scaffolding questions and by providing positive feedback and opportunities for success.
  • Use different methods of eliciting student responses (verbal/non-verbal), such as red/green card. Ask students to label, list, or draw when appropriate.
  • Focus on conveying meanings and on academic content vocabulary development using multiple teaching modalities such as pictures, graphs, charts, graphic organizers, number lines, word walls, TI interactive, TI connect, and math manipulatives.
  • Explicitly introduce new vocabulary while considering multiple learning styles.
  • Maintain appropriate rate of speech and wait time (exhibiting awareness of the processing time needed for students to mentally translate).
  • Model appropriate grammar and usage but use simple syntax (noun, verb, object).
  • Model appropriate language, but do not overtly call attention to grammatical errors in writing or speech. Avoid the use of slang or idioms.
  • Model thinking strategies and study skills aloud for students.
  • Provide purposeful group activities that encourage oral language.
  • Use native language cognates as appropriate.
  • Model the math processes used as well as the writing and labeling involved.
  • Use the K-W-L strategy (listing what students Know, Want to know, and have Learned) regarding a specific topic or concept.
  • Pair the ELL with a peer who is proficient in both languages.
  • Help students develop a personal math vocabulary list, glossary, or flip book.
  • Preview and review important concepts, using highlighters to color code items.
  • Use the Frayer model—examples vs. non-examples of a concept.
  • Be cognizant of confusing word meanings and explain the different use of certain words, such as “table” or “base.”
  • Provide many opportunities to write in first language as well as in English.


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