Creating a Language-Rich Mathematics Classroom

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  • 0:00 A Language-Rich Environment
  • 1:47 Create a Language-Rich…
  • 2:30 Pre-Teach &…
  • 4:06 Use Vocabulary Consistently
  • 4:46 Include Vocabulary in…
  • 5:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Math class is a place to learn number sense and applications, but it can also be rich in language. This lesson discusses the importance of creating a language-rich mathematics classroom and gives examples for everyday use.

A Language-Rich Environment

Andrew is a student who loves math. He enjoys solving problems, asking questions, and finding answers. Last year, his teacher had a math classroom focused on language, where students were asked not only to solve problems but to think about them. Ms. Fab often asked questions like 'How did you get that answer?' or 'Explain your thinking to the class.' Andrew learned a lot this way; his understanding of mathematical concepts was stronger than ever.

His teacher this year, though, isn't as talented. Ms. Dread is old school. She writes problems on the board, demonstrates mathematical methods, and asks students to solve them. The class never talks about their thinking, and Ms. Dread doesn't accept different ways to solve problems or seem to care if students have a deep understanding.

Poor Andrew! Teachers who embed thinking into their mathematics teaching give students powerful tools they can use to deepen their understanding. By incorporating a language-rich environment, one that emphasizes math terms through conversations and writing, students like Andrew are prepared for encountering mathematical situations in real life.

Think about the language used in math. Terms like 'numerator' and 'denominator' aren't words children naturally encounter in their lives. This academic vocabulary consists of words students only see within the school walls. Without frequent usage of these terms, students aren't able to develop context.

A classroom that's language-rich embeds language orally and in writing. When students see, say, and hear the words 'numerator' and 'denominator' often, use them in conversations, and hear other students use them, they begin to become part of their everyday vocabulary. Let's take a peek at what this might look like.

Creating a Language-Rich Math Classroom

So how can teachers create a language-rich classroom? Think about how children learn and develop math concepts. In mathematics, using language often helps students assimilate, or fully understand, new math skills and concepts. So how can Ms. Dread create a language-rich classroom? For starters, she can make sure vocabulary is part of every lesson she teaches. She can do this by:

  • Pre-teaching vocabulary terms
  • Demonstrating vocabulary usage when teaching new skills
  • Being clear and consistent with terms
  • Including vocabulary in assessments

By embedding these behaviors in her everyday routine, Ms. Dread can start turning her mathematics classroom into a language-rich environment.

Pre-Teach and Demonstrate Vocabulary

Our brains are constantly trying to take in new information and connect it to old. To assimilate new vocabulary in mathematics class, teachers can start off on the right foot by pre-teaching, or teaching words before students will use them. This allows students to become familiar with the terms before they need to apply math steps.

For example, let's imagine Ms. Dread is beginning a unit on geometry. She can teach terms like rhombus and sphere before she begins working on measuring angles or working with shapes. By pre-teaching vocabulary terms, she's giving students schema. By enabling them to build knowledge of geometric shapes before having to work on concepts, she allows them to build background knowledge.

So what happens after the vocabulary is pre-taught? Well, Andrew is like most of us. Things make more sense to him when he uses many senses for learning. If Ms. Dread simply lectures about geometry, Andrew and the other students are only hearing what she's saying and have to imagine what things look like, or what vocabulary words may mean when applied. This could be trouble if their thinking is different than reality.

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