Some people assume that math is the easiest subject to teach to ESL students. They think that since numbers are the primary material of the class and since numbers seem to be the same country to country, little room exists for confusion. However, this is not the case. Math can be just as confusing for ESL students as other subjects, which is why specialized teaching strategies must be used to make sure that the ESL student is successful.
When teaching math to ESL students, you need to remember that students from different continents might have been taught math in vastly different ways. The content they have learned to date may be different than what is taught in the U. S., and the order of learning specific math subjects may vary.
You need to figure out what each ESL student in the class already knows and tailor your lesson plans accordingly. Some students may require a review of certain subjects, some may require some one-on-one on new subjects, while other students may be ready to move on to more advanced math subjects.
The other issue with mathematics is that the United States tends to place a great deal of emphasis on word problems. This is certainly understandable as it helps to create interdisciplinary connections to broaden the students' field of learning. However, these word problems also create issues for students who do not speak English as their first language.
Make sure that the language used in the word problem is simple and clear.
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When ESL students start using word problems, it might help if you pair the student(s) together. If there are native speaking students in the classroom, combine the ESL student with the native speaking student. Reading the problem and working together can build the confidence of both students.
Understanding the terms and concepts of math is crucial for success. Starting off with a vocabulary list is important.
You may not be able to review every single last word that you are going to use in the class sessions; however, you should create a word list that targets the major and at least some of the minor concepts. For example:
Reviewing vocabulary as a part of each lesson plan will give your students a solid basis to start from as they learn each new concept.
The ESL students' ability to understand math concepts will depend on how well they understand English. In addition to math vocabulary, the student will need to understand instructions and will need to be able to communicate their answers and reasoning to you and other students.
When your teaching strategies key into the core issues of the ESL student, you have a better chance of helping them to accomplish their academic goals in mathematics.