We are all responsible for “promoting high standards of literacy, articulacy and the correct use of standard English”* and when the pressure to teach subject content is too high this can be pushed to one side. In this post I am going to discuss why literacy across the curriculum is so important in maths lessons and then sign post some ready made resources so that you can bring literacy into maths lessons immediately.
Why bring literacy into maths lessons? Isn't that the English departments job? Well... No. It's everybody's job to teach literacy as the opening quote from the Teachers' Standards shows. At one level it's that simple. Ofsted requires evidence of literacy across the curriculum to grade a school as outstanding so if your school aims to be outstanding you'd better have that evidence. In addition, the new maths GCSE, with its increased focus on real world problem solving, demands higher literacy skills. It would be a great shame if we taught our students all the content and they didn't get the results they deserve because they couldn't understand the exam questions. Finally, it's not the English department's job to teach mathematical vocabulary. That's a job that maths departments are best placed to do and so here are some resources to help.
I've found that students enjoy doing word-searches (for lower ability) and crosswords and these are a great way to bring maths vocabulary into your lessons. I have made lots and they are available on TES, including a free maths vocabulary resource on ratio and proportion and a bundle of algebra crosswords and word searches. There are lots of ways to use them and you know your students needs best but here a just a few ideas to get you started.
- Use as a lesson starter the week before starting a new topic to prelearn or revise the vocabulary you'll need.
- Use as a revision homework, you could set several crosswords as a single homework or one a week over the revision period so that you and the students find out where their gaps are.
- Give to students after an end of topic test so that they get something fun as a reward for finishing the test which also keeps them working silently while other classmates are still working on the test.
- Entertain students at an after school maths club, especially useful for those weeks when you haven't had time to plan something from scratch.
- Use when you really need 20 minutes of quiet time to calm down a class or to earn yourself a bit of peace.
I hope that by now I've convinced you that all students need a bit of literacy in their maths lessons but of course for EAL students it's especially essential. I stick a sheet of operations terminology into EAL students' books to give them something to navigate by. EAL students know what the symbols are so there is no need to translate this resource into your student's home language https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/four-operations-vocabulary-posters-11224174.
*From section 3 of the Teachers' Standards.
Anna Granta is on a break from teaching and tutors maths at KS3,4&5 in Cambridge.