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Improving MATH comprehension with anchor charts

Have you ever used anchor charts in your your math lessons? 

Visuals are a fabulous strategy to help English learners access content instruction.  You can quickly tweak your anchor chart to allow for language development during your math lesson.

Anchors charts used in a math lesson are a phenomenal way to help your English Learners:

  • know exactly what you are saying
  • what the vocabulary looks like (helping their reading and writing skills develop)
  • how they are expected to use the new vocabulary in the lesson and conversation

Beyond the benefit math anchor charts provide to your English learners, this trick will benefit all students to more fully engage in your math lesson and be a part of the group – knowing what to say and do.


When you are planning your language enhanced math anchor charts consider the following:

What vocabulary will students need to be successful?

  • When listening to you as the teacher?
  • When engaging in conversation with each other?
  • When speaking or writing about the content?


Jot down your key vocabulary. Now think about the sentences students will need to say and practice when talking about the topic.

For example:

If you want to teach them about rounding. How will they talk about rounding?

What will it sound like? What do you want them to say?

Plan ahead of time exactly what you want the students to say. That way when you teach your lesson using your math anchor chart, the vocabulary around the topic will be clear and concise and it will happen naturally.  What are the sentences you want to hear?

Also, think about the opportunities you will provide for the students to use the new vocabulary and use the language you are giving them about your topic.

  • When are they going to get to use this new vocabulary and sentence structures?
  • How much will they be allowed/encouraged to talk?
  • How will you provide opportunities for them to practice their new language?


Remember the key rule with English Learners:

You have to use the language to learn the language!


Getting started with your math anchor charts

Add the title of the subject to the top of your anchor chart.

Example: Rounding to the nearest ten


As you write it on the chart, explain to your students:

“There are a few important words in our title to point out.”

“Rounding we have been talking about for a while, so you should remember that word.”


Underline the word rounding as you mention it.

 Then underline the next two keywords as you say:

“Pay attention to these two key words: nearest and ten.”

“Rounding is the math process we are going to use. We’re going to round numbers. Hang on and we will get back to that idea. And we’re going to round numbers to the nearest ten.”  Point at the words as you say them.

Let’s continue the conversation to drive home the explanation. Consider your conversation continuing as follows:

“Remember in math we have been talking about ones and tens and hundreds - our place value words. Tens mean there are two digits. “

You can write a two digit number on the board and show them an example (like 47)


Now go back and point at the word NEAREST.

“Nearest means close. I’m just going to write the word close beside the word so you remember what it means.” Write close next to the word nearest (see image).

“And I’m going to draw a quick picture of two people standing super close beside each other. This way you can remember that nearest means close to.”


Got the idea of how this math anchor chart works?

The most important part is that you write on the board what you are saying and physically point to the words as you say them. This allows your English learners to hear the word, see the word, and associate the word within a sentence. That’s dynamite for their learning process.


What an amazing teaching hack!

All of a sudden you have gone from just giving a normal math lesson, to also teaching English! You haven’t added any extra work to your plate, yet you have done wonders for offering the extra assistance your English Learners need to excel.

As you continue your lesson, write or draw out everything you’re mentioning. To assist you further, I recorded a video (of this same lesson) so you can see in action how I explain the rounding process and highlight language with my students.

However you choose to explain rounding (or any concept), be sure to do so both audibly and visually to reinforce the concept.


Click here to watch the video demonstration


Don’t be surprised if all your students profit from this approach. The extra aid you're providing in your teaching approach with anchor charts will help learners of all styles apply the concepts more thoroughly.


One final tip

Reinforce your concept by telling the students how they should talk about the terms you have provided. Don’t make them guess at how it’s going to happen. Illustrate what to say by writing out conversational sentence frames using the math terms.  This supports speaking, listening, reading, and writing!

For example:

“I’m writing down one of the instructions you will hear me say regularly as we work through this concept.”

Write down Round the number to the nearest ten. Now point back through the words as you repeat the phrase.

“Round the number to the nearest ten.”

Further, explain to the students:

“So when you see these directions written down or hear me say them, you will remember that it means to plot your number on the roller coaster and decide if you are rounding up or rounding down.”


That’s all for today’s tip on using anchor charts in your math lessons. I go a little further in the video example, and of course, you’ll progress deeper in your own lesson. The main point is that you write out how you want the student to learn it and apply it moving forward.  No secrets here!

We’ve heard from so many of the teachers in our community about how their English learners start understanding and engaging more. We’d love to hear about your experience implementing Math Anchor Charts. Leave a comment below letting us know how it worked for you and your students.


We created a worksheet to summarize your action steps and give you a template for your planning. Click to download the free the worksheet. 

Blog author, Kelly Reider, is the founder of English Learner Portal.  She currently works with high school newcomers and provides professional learning workshops both online and across the country.

Want more professional learning around developing language and content in your classroom?  Take a look at our online course, "A Content Teacher's Guide to English Learner Success".  This course is perfect for those just getting started with English learners and is open for enrollment.


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