ELL Math Activities to Support English Learners

The number of non-native English-speaking students in U.S. schools is growing. The percentage of these students, often referred to as English learners (EL), English language learners (ELL) or English speakers of other language students (ESOL), was higher in fall 2016 than fall 2000. In fact, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment of ELLs in schools rose from 8.1 percent, or 3.8 million students, to 9.6 percent, or 4.9 million students, in that 16-year period between 2000 and 2016.

As the ELL student population rises, so does the risk of a widening achievement gap between these students and their English-speaking peers. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that in 2017, the average mathematics score for 4th grade ELL students was 26 points lower than the average score of their English-speaking peers. That same year, the gap was even worse for 8th grade ELL students, whose average mathematics score was 40 points lower than the average score of their English-speaking peers.

Educators must learn to incorporate specific strategies, techniques and ELL math activities into their lesson plans to help the increasing number of ELL students entering their classrooms improve their math and language skills. Having ELL math resources that are specifically catered to teach math for English language learners can help these students learn faster, retain more information and feel more confident and comfortable in their classrooms.

Watch this webinar from the Consortium on Reaching Excellence in Education (CORE) to learn specific strategies for teaching math to English learners. The webinar presenter, Dean Ballard, Director of Mathematics for CORE, also walks through several ELL math activities you can incorporate into your ELL math lesson plans today.

Specific Strategies for Teaching Math to English Learners

 In the webinar, walk through specific techniques you can incorporate into ELL math lesson plans and general math instruction to support ELLs. These strategies include:

  • Making vocabulary concepts explicit and visual
  • Making good use of repetition in math instruction
  • Using scaffolds to support ELLs, including sentence frames, partnering and providing ELLs the opportunity to talk in their native languages first
  • Creating, managing and processing opportunities for students to talk about math with each other
  • Incorporating engaging ELL math activities into classroom instruction

ELL Math Activities to Support English Learners

 In the webinar, Ballard walks you through several math problems and ELL math activities to weave into your math lesson plans, all featured in CORE’s book, Spend Some Time with 1 to 9. All of these activities are designed to activate math for English language learners, building number sense through problem solving and mathematical reasoning.

Example: One activity challenges students to create as many equations as they can with the digits 1-9. To make the activity even more challenging, students are asked to:

  • Avoid using any digit more than once within an equation
  • Avoid using the digit zero
  • Use any math operation (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, exponents, etc.)

 While walking you through these math tasks, Ballard models and discusses techniques you can use to help ELL students overcome language barriers.

Start Building Your ELL Math Lesson Plans

Having ELL math resources, including engaging ELL math activities, that are specifically catered to teaching math for English language learners can help students master math proficiency while building their language proficiency, too. Watch the full webinar for specific strategies and math activities to support ELLs in the classroom.

Dean Ballard: Additionally, some other recommendations that we’ve found, some techniques that we’ve found very important and very helpful are to make vocabulary and concepts explicit and visual. That repetition is a good thing. Use scaffolds such as sentence frames, partnering, allowing students to talk in their native language to each other to translate ideas, to use engaging activities, and to create, manage and process opportunities for students to talk about the math with each other. On this slide, a lot of these strategies, I would say that the third bullet really gives you the most specific kinds of techniques that we’re going to share, and I’m going to share some more specific techniques along the way because I realize that ultimately it’s the specific teaching techniques that you can take into the classroom that make the biggest difference for you.

Dean Ballard: All right, so we’re going to move on, and I’m going to get into a math problem with you. This problem and the next two that I’m going to share with you are featured in the books CORE put out called Spend Some Time with 1 to 9. The problems are actually available to you in a free sampler that you can get as well, that you can download from our website. These are activities that we created to provide some engaging problems that build number sense through problem solving and mathematical reasoning. This is in itself modeling a couple of techniques for addressing language challenges. That of using gauging problems, and also the idea of minimizing the language demands in a problem, while still maximizing mathematical reasoning.

Dean Ballard: While taking you through a couple of these math tasks I’ll model and discuss techniques for helping students overcome language barriers. With this particular problem I’m going to first go through the directions like I would with a class of students. And then, we’ll process it together. I’ll have you actually input into the chat, or the question window some of your thoughts, and then I’ll give you a few minutes to try that math challenge yourself actually, and then we’ll briefly process some of your answers as well.

Dean Ballard: So, going through the math problem: Create equations for the digits 1-9. Create as many equations as you can using these digits and when I say digits versus numbers, I want you to think about the digits are like letters, and numbers are like words, just like we make words using the letters, we make numbers using the digits. The digits 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, and 0. So, we’re going to use digits, those digits 1-9 to make some equations. So they’ll be creating numbers and equations, and we’re going to see how many of the digits we can use. For example, 8 divided by 4 = 5-3. Here’s an equation, so it’s equal, and let’s see if it’s actually a true equation. 8 divided by 4 is 2, 5-3 is 2, so we have 2=2 so we have a good equation, it works. I’ve used 4 of the digits. 3, 4, 5, and 8 creating numbers and we have a good equation.

Dean Ballard: Here’s another example. 6 x 7 = 42. Here we have again an equation that’s true. 6 x 7 does equal 42. I’ve used 4, I’ve used some of the digits, I’ve used four of them, 1, 2, 3, 4 to create 6, 7, and 42. Another example. 2 to the 3rd power equals 8. Again, a true equation, it is an equation that is true, and I’ve used some of the digits. I’ve used 2, 3, and 8 to create that equation. Final example here of ones that work. I think I’ve gotten in this equation to use all of the digits. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 so I used all the digits in this case to create numbers in an equation that’s true. Let’s see if it’s true. 7 x 5 is 35 + 8 is 43 – quantity 6 + 1 is seven, so we have 43 – 7 makes 36. Over here we have 29 + 3 makes 32. 32 + 4 makes 36. So we have 36 = 36, so it’s an equation, it works, it’s great.

Dean Ballard: Now you noticed I did not use any digit more than once within the same equation. Now I can re-use the digits on new equations, but within each equation I did not use the digit more than once. So you never see here, like the 3 only used one time here, 6 never used more than once here, none of these digits are repeats. None of these cases are the digits repeated. So you can’t do something like this, this does not work. 8 divided by 4 + 3 = 7 – 3 + 1. The equation is true, 8 divided by 4 is 2 + 3 makes 5. 7 – 3 + 1 makes 5, that’s 4 + 1 makes 5, so we have an equation, and it is true. 5 = 5, but I used 3 two different times, so I’m not allowed to do that. I’m also, you might have noticed, I did not use 0. 0 is not from 1-9.

Dean Ballard: So, even though it’s a digit it’s not one of the digits we agreed on using here, so you can’t do something like this. 16 divided by 2 is 8, and 40 divided by, let’s see 8 – 3 is 5 so 40 divided by 5 is 8, so we have 8 =8, that’s good, that’s the equation it works, all that’s good except I used 0, not allowed to do that. I’m crossing that out. So you can use any math operation you want. You can use add, subtract, multiply, divide, or exponents. Whatever you can to make an equation use some or all of the digits, don’t use 0, don’t use a digit more than once within an equation, and you see how many you can create. Be as creative as you can.

Dean Ballard: All right, so, everybody, all my webinar friends here that’s the end of the instructions with the class.