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 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.