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Teaching Math to ELL Students

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Instructor: Lindy Hatten

Lindy has a M.Ed in TESOL with a Cross-Cultural concentration from Saint Mary's College of California. She has taught for 25 years at the secondary and university levels.

Math is difficult for ELL students due to complex concepts and language usage. Learn to teach math to English language learners by creating a calm classroom environment, using effective math strategies, and supportive vocabulary. Updated: 11/02/2021

English Language Learners

An English language learner (ELL) is an individual with little or no English experience. Imagine for a moment, you move to a new country with a new language. You have studied many subjects successfully, including math, in your home country. Now everything has changed. School lessons are taught differently. Teachers and students try to help, but the language is so foreign. Some schools have newcomer centers for new arrivals, but these centers can be costly, and federal law states that students are only allowed up to two years of intense English training. Therefore, schools districts must often take on the task of developing programs within their schools to provide additional assistance to the ELL student.

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  • 0:04 English Language Learners
  • 0:45 Why Math?
  • 1:15 The Classroom Environment
  • 1:47 Math Strategies
  • 3:03 Math Vocabulary
  • 3:33 Lesson Summary
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Why Math?

Math is one area in which English language learners tend to struggle. It's a common fallacy that ELL students will excel at math because they only need to know numbers. This notion isn't necessarily true, because math is full of academic vocabulary and complex concepts that must be explained using words. It's important that the teacher understands his or her students' language proficiency level in order to plan math lessons. There are many strategies that can help when teaching math to ELL students.

The Classroom Environment

Lowering the anxiety level of any student is important when teaching a new idea, and for the ELL student, a lowered anxiety level is especially important for learning. The stress of communicating in a new language and possibly living in a new environment, added to the idea of learning a new concept, can be overwhelming. One method is to incorporate 'there is no such thing as a dumb question' rule. You want students to feel safe to make mistakes and learn from them. Scaffolding information or providing the needed support in a variety of ways helps lower anxiety.

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