January 18, 2022

Teaching Math Vocabulary to ELLs

Math Vocabulary

Hello Teachers and welcome to 2022!

To get set for this year let's talk about Math vocabulary.  Are you ready?

Math feels so overwhelming some days for our students, doesn’t it? Especially, if like me, you work with ELL students or any other student who may be at-risk of academic challenges. We know that math is about so much more than numbers, there is vocabulary involved that tend to trip up even our best. In math, words often have multiple meanings or mean something else entirely from their “normal” use. Suddenly words like face have nothing to do with where we wear our smiles. So how do we teach math vocabulary to ELL and at-risk students? 

Pre-Teaching and Graphic Organizers

Just like with ELA vocabulary, the best place to start with math vocabulary is at the beginning. This means pre-teaching any words that we know are going to cause a struggle. I love to use a graphic organizer during this time. My students make a notebook as we add definitions, examples, and even pictures of our new words. The organizers become a learning tool that my students can look back on throughout the lesson and as a review at the end.

Modeling and Visual Cues

I’ve already mentioned some visual cues, but I like to take it a step further than just my students’ individual notebooks. I place visual cues for our most challenging words around the classroom when teaching math vocabulary to ELL and at-risk students. We move from spot to spot and I model the meaning of the word specific to our math lesson. This gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about how some words have different meanings in different contexts. 

Vocabulary Banks and Student Friendly Definitions

After we have reviewed the words together and talked through each meaning in math, my students will start to build a vocabulary bank. I like to use index cards with a ring for this. Students will have the words written on one side and then a student-friendly definition on the other side. This definition needs to be anchored in skills that our students already have. Luckily math lessons build naturally.

I realize that the vocabulary bank is very similar to their notebook, but I also know that writing the words and definitions multiple times in multiple ways is an excellent reinforcer.

Math Journals

I usually break teaching math vocabulary to ELL and at-risk students into chunks…pre-teaching, the lesson, and the review. At the end of each of these chunks, I have my students complete a math journal page. This varies depending on grade level but typically looks something like completing this prompt, “Today in math I learned…”. This is just one more way that students are able to think through their vocabulary, explain it in their own terms, and reinforce written expression and understanding.

Teaching Math Vocabulary

Math vocabulary does not have to feel overwhelming to our students. If we do small pieces leading up to the big event, build on prior knowledge, and make sure our students have multiple ways to show what they know then teaching math vocabulary to ELL and at-risk students can be fun. As your students make progress they will feel proud of the words and knowledge that they gain on this journey.


January 4, 2022

Past Tense Demystified in ELL Classroom

Hello everyone and Welcome to 2022 ~ it's going to be a great year.

2021 is now in the past so what better time to talk about the past tense!

We all know the struggle that comes with introducing English learners to new verb tenses - the uncertainty, stress, and difficulty keeping everything straight can overwhelm the brightest child. As they progress past the basics, ELs can become downright anxious. So how can we help them succeed?

In my experience, simple examples coupled with fun activities offer ELs the best opportunity to gain real mastery of any English language concept.

It’s all too easy to get bogged down by complex explanations when it comes to teaching the differences between past continuous, past perfect, and past perfect continuous. This is where examples come in handy:

The past simple is something that was completed in the past; the verb probably ends with -ed.
The past continuous describes something that was happening over a period of time in the past; it uses the formula “was ____ing.”
The past perfect describes a completed action earlier (or farther) in the past; it uses the formula “had ____ed.”
The past perfect continuous describes what was happening over a period of time earlier in the past; it uses the formula “had been ____ing.”

Past simple I put up lights.
Past continuous I was putting up lights.
Past perfect I had put up lights.
Past perfect continuous I had been putting up lights.

For more advanced English learners, you can combine the different past tense forms into sample sentences for them to complete with you or on their own:
Steve _________ (to wait) for Nyla for 40 minutes before she __________ (to show) up at work.
Steve had been waiting for Nyla for 40 minutes before she showed up at work.

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE playing verb games with my students! They can’t get enough of it and are acquiring deeper knowledge with every minute they play. That’s a win-win for sure!

I’ve had tremendous success with the Past Tense Verbs Games in particular. They feature rules that are easy to learn along with materials that work at multiple levels of English mastery. That’s a win-win if there ever was one!

How do you tackle verb tenses with ELs? Comment below with your favorite tips, games, and ideas!

Happy Teaching! πŸ’œ

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