Reading and writing mathematics

Els De Geest | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

How to support mathematical literacy, including reading and writing

Kersaint et al (2013) suggests 5 principles:

  • Give many opportunities to read, write, listen, discuss mathematics in a variety of ways
  • Draw attention to patterns of English and mathematics language structure
  • Give plenty of time to use and develop the language
  • Give learners opportunities to notice their errors and to correct their English (eg through revoicing, requesting clarification, elicitation by pausing, repetition of what learner says by teacher (p10))
  • Construct activities that maximize learners to interact with others

Kersaint et al (2013) also make some suggestions for orchestrating classroom discourse to help with the development of mathematical literacy:

  • Speak clearly, enunciate clearly, give visual representation of words by writing them down
  • Express information in multiple ways
  • Use controlled vocabulary (Murray (2004) states one needs to use a word at least 30 times in order to own it!) - so maximize opportunities to practice vocabulary
  • Pause frequently and increase wait time
  • Use drawings and illustrations to support communication
  • Use dramatic gestures, actions, and verbal intonations
  • Engage learners in speaking and listening

Some Reading strategies (Kersaint et al, 2013):

  • Teacher read aloud.
  • Teacher models engagement with text.
  • Say something: students read small portion of text and tell one thing about what they read to partner

Some writing strategies:

  • Word walls; mindmaps (Kersaint et al, 2013)
  • Personal dictionaries ((Kersaint et al, 2013,p102, 115)
  • Dictation (similar technique as a spelling test)

Support ideas for professional development:

Interesting examples of use of language, reading and writing mathematics can often be seen in videos of classroom practice. A good example is this youtube video from the NCETM


  • Kersaint, G., Thompson, D. R., & Petkova, M. (2013). Teaching mathematics to English language learners (2nd Edition). New York: Routledge.