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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Teaching Kinders to Speak Math

Color-coded lesson chart
One of the challenges that many of our students have in math is being able to read the problems and use the academic vocabulary--especially in our primary classrooms. Last week I partnered with our literacy TOSA, Eve Lindsay, and a Kindergarten teacher at one of our Title I schools to teach a math unit, with a focus on language acquisition.

Our district currently uses Eureka Math in K-5, so we used the materials that we already had and designed a lesson around the math standards that the classroom teacher was preparing to teach:
  • K.MD.1-- Describe measurable attributes (in this case capacity)
  • K.MD.2-- Compare objects based on measurable attributes
  • SMP 6-- Attending to precision
Our plan was to build in language supports and embed differentiation that would meet the needs of all learners, from those that spoke no English to others who were reading at almost a 2nd grade level. Below are lists of the math and language acquisition strategies that we built into the unit to help students better understand the math content and to give them the language that they would need in order to read simple math prompts and engage in math conversation.

(Click here to view our full unit plan)

Math Strategies:

Realia, images, resource chart
  • Realia-- using real life objects to let students explore the idea of capacity
  • Choral counting-- students need LOTS of practice counting, so we embedded opportunities for students to count as often as possible
  • Number line-- during whole group lesson & independent work
  • Math lesson chart-- document big ideas on a chart while teaching so that students have a resource to access during independent work time
  • Hands-on/concrete exploration-- give students time to play with manipulatives (or in this case rice and cups) to help them construct meaningful understandings of abstract mathematical ideas

Language Strategies:

TPR for academic vocabulary
  • Total Physical Response (TPR)-- linking a physical movement to academic vocabulary
  • "Say it with me"-- a lot of choral speaking during whole group lesson
  • Counting syllables-- have students count syllables with teacher as they say new word
  • Sentence frames-- we had these available during whole group and independent work time in various forms so students could access them as needed to put together entire sentences using academic vocabulary
  • Vocabulary-- color coded word cards & images to support the meaning
  • Color coding-- we color coded important vocabulary on the lesson chart and used the same color coding on sentences frames and worksheets to help students remember the words while they were learning to read them
  • Repetition-- we opened and closed every lesson with a review of vocabulary, reciting meanings and acting out TPR every time


  • Realia/hands-on-- the rice, the scooping and the pouring gave students some much needed sensory time and a chance to work on motor skills
  • Cutting/Pasting-- we changed a circling activity to a cutting/pasting activity not only so we could customize the images that students compared, but also to give the Kindergarteners a chance to practice using scissors and glue, and more work on their motor skills
  • Writing-- our day 3 activity also asked students to write the words more/less so that they had a chance to work on not only spelling, but also fine motor skills involved in using a pencil and forming letters
  • Movement-- strategies like TPR get kids up and moving! Activity helps get the wiggles out and keeps the blood flowing... less chance of students getting tired and distracted when they're moving.

Hands-on learning
Using data from a pre-assessment that we gave at the start of the week, and teacher feedback regarding students that she was concerned about academically (either in math, ela or both) we put together a short list of focus students whose growth during the week would help us determine the success of our unit.

Feedback from the classroom teacher was so complimentary! By the end of the week, our target students were already using complete sentences (without prompting!), including academic language, to accurately define the mathematical concepts we'd introduced that week.
Specific growth that we noticed among the majority of students included:
  • A shift from depending mainly on the terms bigger/smaller toward using more specific adjectives to compare the size of objects (i.e. taller/shorter, heavier/lighter, more than/less than)
  • The ability to identify (either by pointing, choosing, or with words) items that have capacity and those that do not
  • The ability to identify (either by pointing, choosing, or with words) which of two items has more capacity and which has less capacity
  • Students were able to, at the minimum, use the words "...has more capacity..." accurately when comparing two objects
At week's end, 22 out of 24 students completed our culminating task with proficiency. We determined that only 2 students would need additional instruction in describing and comparing objects using measurable attributes. A huge win? After just 4 days worth of TPR, repetition and realia work, students were able to use new academic vocabulary correctly and independently, and they were able to identify that academic vocabulary on paper when prompted.

Success story! 
This Kinder has very little English, but was using brand new academic vocabulary correctly, 
and without prompts or supports, after just 4 days of instruction!

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