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Week 6: Walking in your learners shoes

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Last updated by Breda Matthews

Hi everyone,

     Last week we discussed what it is like to be an English language learner.


Nationally last week saw a wee bit of angst around the Level 1 Maths examination. It made me think about what ESOL and mainstream teachers need to do to support learning the language of Maths. We have actually shared some links previously but I thought it was worth including them again and perhaps sharing them with Maths colleagues.


This is an excerpt from Gemma Fanning’s article


….within the secondary setting, mathematical word problems often present EAL learners with some difficulties. Mertin (2014) gives examples of typical mathematical word problems that EAL learners encounter. These are:

  • You need to conduct a mathematical investigation which will help you answer the question.

  • Take a sample of the data provided in whichever way you feel is the fairest.

  • Write a short paragraph explaining what the above calculations tell you.

Mertin (2014) goes on to explain that often these types of word problems, include low frequency words such as "provided, construct, visual representation" as well as sentence structures such as the one above "whichever way you feel is the fairest" are confusing. When considering writing word problems it would be better to use the command verbs, which can be found in many other subject areas, such as explain, calculate and write. In addition to this, it would be useful to provide EAL students with a model answer, to see what is expected of them, or some sentence starters to help them answer the question.

It is important to teachers to explain these low frequency words and I am sure that there are many students who would benefit from such an approach, not just ELLs. You can read more of Gemma’s article here.

And why not share the links to DVD 1 of the series Integrating language and learning in secondary maths and science. These videos make great PD sessions and can be delivered across a number of short sessions looking at specific areas such recycling language.

On other communities

On Primary ESOL Online Janet posted about reducing the summer slide.



Kind regards



Breda Matthews

Facilitator: Secondary ESOL community 


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