ELLs (ESL students) typically struggle through the English vocabulary in their math classes regardless of the grade or content level involved. Often times, it is not the concept that is the problem, but the language needed to complete the problem. This is an issue that I bring up regularly with the teachers I interact with on a daily basis and in my university class. Give such students just the numbers and often times, they can find an answer. Embed the math in a word problem and the students give up. Look at the following simple elementary math problem:
"5 boys and 10 girls went on a field trip. How many children went altogether? " Here are some of the problems that surface. The problem went from BOYS and GIRLS to CHILDREN. The student may not know that CHILDREN is the plural for BOYS and GIRLS combined. Next, FIELD TRIP has some issues. For many, they associate the word FIELD to an outdoor park type area where soccer is played and TRIP may have the association of a car ride or vacation. The word ALTOGETHER is synonymous with ADDITION. Another vocabulary word to be clarified. Also, the term FIELD TRIP may be alien to them. A teacher would have to give examples of the meanings of both if the students are to fully understand the problem. Now, though this is a basic elementary math problem, you can see the problems that emerge with "simple" vocabulary.
So, how can a teacher provide additional support ELLs (ESL students) within the classroom to help them tackle both the vocabulary load and content in math (BASIC through Calculus)? Aside from word walls, math journals, group projects, partner tests, etc., there are also excellent websites that would provide students with lots of practice (computers have infinite patience with the new concepts and vocabulary). One that used to only cover spelling (SPELLING CITY) now has a math component grades K-12. You need to register (free) first to be able to access the math vocabulary and VIDEOs on building math vocabulary into your lessons (again K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12). You will also bring in vocabulary games with math and there are many online exercises you can create using those words so that your ELLs have many choices to pull from to learn the words in context. Remember, after you create your account, you will need to go to TEACHER RESOURCES and look for MATH on the left side of the page. Once there, you will pick the area of math you are working on and click. Videos can be found in the top menus.
Another excellent site for math related concepts is found at NCTM ILLUMINATIONS (National Council of Teachers of Mathmatics). This is the equivalent of NCTE's READ, WRITE, THINK site for English and Language Arts but for math. At ILLUMINATIONS, you will find everything imaginable to motivate students to want to learn math: activities (games), lessons, standards, and weblinks. Once again grades K-12 are covered. Everything here is also free.
Take a look and if you like what you see, leave a comment:)
ELL Teacher Pros