Teaching Math to ELLs

1. Start with your curriculum, standards, scope & sequence; pace instruction over 4 quarters.
2. Identify ELL’s level from main page to plan instruction according to English language proficiency.
3. Scaffold up to grade level using Tiered words, sentence frames, and comprehension check-in
    –> To help you with this critical step, see example below “English Language Development (or Progression) in Math”.
4. Consult ENL instructional specialist as necessary.

More…from the NYC DoE “ELL Considerations for Common Core-Aligned Tasks in Mathematics

Focusing on the:

  • Standard for Mathematical Practice 3 (Construct Viable Arguments and Critique and Reasoning of Others) and
  • Standard for Mathematical Practice 4 (Model with Mathematics,

it is important to provide ELLs with both Language Access and Content Access.

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I. Language Access

Distinguish between Vocabulary and Language Functions as entries into the math content. Explicitly teach these to ensure comprehension of the tasks.

  • Introduce the most essential vocabulary/language functions before beginning the tasks.
    • Vocabulary Words
      • Tier I Non-academic language: mostly social and every day language; e.g. small, orange, clock, etc.
      • Tier II General academic language:
      • Tier III Math technical language: associated with specific math topics
    • Language Functions
      • Pronounce each word and students repeat
      • Introduce words in familiar context and then again in content-specific (e.g. STOP sign is octagonal; Today we are learning about multi-sided figures)
      • Follow the New Blooms Taxonomy to explain, describe, inform, …. hypothesize, etc. using math-specific examples.
  • Use visuals when introducing new words and concepts.
  • Build background knowledge
  • Promote oral language development through cooperative learning groups.
  • Provide Native Language Supports

Strategies for language access:

  1. Pre-reading for vocabulary building and student prediction.
  2. Word analysis and vocabulary building (student glossary)
  3. Semantic webbing (Word families and Word walls)

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II. Content Access

  • Consider the concepts the ELLs are likely to encounter in the unit and lessons.
  • Back-plan concrete outcomes (What are the students required to know and be able to do?)
  • What is the math in the task?
  • What prior knowledge is required for the ELL to proceed?
  • What are the different but similar tasks students can do before assessment?


  1. Use Manipulatives
  2. Graphic Organizers
  3. Use of Technology
  4. Differentiated Instruction (visual, kinesthetic, auditory, etc.)
  5. Assessment for Learning (AfL)

Scaffolding is a tool to accessibility. When you provide a student with easy entry into the content, then they can be successful. You can gradually pull back and hand the role to the student when she/he becomes skilled enough to manage it.