99.  Subject: 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. When ESL and content area teachers team up, 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.


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