224.  Re: math word problems -- I am looking for some good strategies that will help my Hispanic ESL students with math word problems. This is such a nightmare for LEP students, yet even the math computation section of the End Of Grade Testing in North Carolina is now in a word-problem format.


One of the most important concepts in effective programs for English Language Learners (ELL's = LEP Students) is the idea that content area teachers and ESL teachers MUST TEAM UP so that the language of the content areas is introduced and practiced in the ESL lesson BEFORE the ELL attends the content area class. So my most important recommendation to you is:

TALK to the ESL teacher and share with (h)im/er your lessons BEFORE the ELL's have to work on the math problems. The ESL teacher, then, analyzing the vocabulary in your math lessons, can prepare ESL lessons introducing the words in the math problems. When the ELL's reach YOUR class, the language of the math problems should be known and easily understood by the ELL's.

Another suggestion would be for you to "restate" the math problem with vocabulary known by the ELL's. Truly, it makes no difference whether a train or a car or a bicycle travels from point A to point B. For purposes of UNDERSTANDING the MATH concept, any vocabulary known by the students should do. Once there is evidence that, with known vocabulary, the ELL's understand the problem, rephrase again and again the same --or similar-- math problems introducing NEW words in the rephrased problems. 

Another very important idea is to display in the classroom the LANGUAGE of MATH, that is, all the language expressions that mean "Add" (How many do you have in total? What is the amount altogether?, etc.? "Subtract" (How many more do you have now?, etc.) "Multiply" and "Divide." POSTING the language of MATH in the classroom helps students always FIND the meaning of the words in the math problems.

Should you have further need to contact me regarding math problems, please, let me know. Hope you try ALL of these ideas and, if you do, I am sure I will hear GREAT news from you in the near future.

COMMENT by person asking the question:

I realized that I forgot to mention that I AM the ESL teacher. I teach 4th/5th ESL at an Elementary School in NC.

I usually do guided readingsin my classes (8 classes per day; 30 minutes each for all levels but newcomers and I have them for 45 minutes every day), but every now and then I do a unit in a content area where I see the children struggling.

I wanted to know if anyone had thought of any ideas I have not thought of. Last year, I worked with long division with some students during my break and we broke everything down into orderly steps which each student wrote on a card. Their classroom teacher let them use the card when they worked in the classroom. Soon the steps were memorized and they did very well in this on the end of grade test.

This year, I really do not have much free time to do anything like this. We have so many LEP students that we have 4 full-time ESL teachers and we are all busy, busy, busy (and loving every minute of it).


Are these readings part of the content area classes? If "YES," then GREAT!!!   If "NO," why not? Your guided readings
MUST connect with content area lessons.

--Why "now and then"? Every day YOUR ESL class must be totally connected to content area lessons attended by the ESL students. You need not teach content areas, you need to teach "the language" of the content areas, what the ESL students are going to "hear" and what they will use in trying to "respond" when they attend that day's content area classes.

Why wait until you see them "struggling"? The ESL class should serve to PREPARE students to be successful PARTICIPANTS in content area classes!!!!!

Your idea is GREAT, however, you are teaching math. Learning the "steps" is NOT learning the "concept" of long division.

YOU ARE RIGHT!!!! You sould not do this type of additional teaching. You and the math teacher need to plan together so
you can teach "the language" of long division so ESL students can understand the concept of long division taught by the math teacher.

I BET all of you are busy!!!! NOW is the time to tell your district about training the content area teachers!




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