5 Strategies to Reach Language Learners When Teaching Mathematics

In the last posts, we have featured strategies to help beginning and intermediate language learners.  In this post, we will focus on how to adapt these strategies while teaching mathematics.

When considering language acquisition strategies we can use, we must first consider cultural gaps that may arise within mathematics.  For instance, students may write their division facts differently or use periods instead of commas when writing numbers. Furthermore, many students may come in with the target conceptual knowledge in their own language, but not have the vocabulary in the new language to express their knowledge.  These students do not need to be retaught the concept.  On the other hand, other students may need the actual concepts but not have the language skills in the new language to access your teaching. 


  1. Explicitly teach students structures in American mathematics only when necessary for academic success.  (For instance, explicitly teach the customary units but allow students to set up their division problems as they do in their native countries).
  2. Explicitly teach affixes commonly used in math such as hept-, tri-, bi-, quad-, equ-, and –gon.
  3. Explicitly teach mathematical vocabulary (i.e. quotient, equivalent) and mathematical phrases (i.e. least common multiple) daily.  Reinforce vocabulary through word walls, flash cards, cloze readings, and talk moves.  Have students use the vocabulary in class discourse.
  4. Use manipulatives and visuals such as charts, graphs, realia, drawings, and graphic organizers to support instruction.
  5.  Use gestures to signify mathematical concepts such as greater than or less than.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s