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Introducing Numeracy

  • Introducing Numeracy

The following blog post was written by James Edel, an instructor in the Gateway to Literacy program at Columbia College in Calgary, Alberta.  James recently facilitated a workshop on “Incorporating numeracy into lesson planning and the classroom” at  the ATESL 2013 Conference in Calgary. 

In the ESL literacy class that I teach, we noticed that some students, or even most students, lacked basic numeracy skills.  This hit home to me when I asked a question like: “There are 25 students in the program and 11 are in our class, how many are in the other class?”  I noticed a variety of methods used to find an answer: counting on fingers, counting 3 on each finger joint, and writing ticks.  Often a correct answer could not be found - students kept shouting out guesses that were nowhere near close! 

I’m fine with guessing on a fill in the blank English worksheet, or when answering an open-ended question, but now, when there was only one distinctly correct answer, their guessing frustrated me!  I think for some, it was news that there could actually be one answer that was findable.  I realized that the fuzziness of life in their text-world is compounded by the fuzziness of their numbers-world.  Since then, I have begun to add numeracy skills into each topic that I teach. 

One of my main numeracy focuses as of late has been to give students an understanding of percent

  • I started with having them find the percent on all of their quizzes/test.  We do a spelling test on Fridays where they have to spell words from the same word family, e.g. old, bold, cold, hold, fold.  Students (even levels like Foundations and Phase 1) tend to have a lot of success with this because we teach the list on Monday and review each day with relevant sentences until the Friday spelling test.  Their job is to calculate the percent themselves for each test. 
  • Next, I showed them the pizza idea. If we cut a pizza in half, in quarters, in eighths we can write fractions and find what percent of the pizza is eaten or remains. This would work better with real pizza. 
  • Then, when we had our City’s municipal election, students enjoyed comparing the percent of who voted for our popular mayor by ward or district in the city. 
  • Lastly, using Microsoft Excel, I have made pie charts to show the percentage of such things as our football and hockey teams’ wins, mother-tongue percentages in our province,  and popular support for political parties in elections and polls.  We have also made pie charts to represent such things as the countries students are from. I try to turn almost any percent into a pie chart on my whiteboard now.

Students are making better sense of the world of numbers that they were previously missing.  I’m starting to see all the ways numeracy is involved in daily life too.  I can report some success as we have placed numeracy objectives within each lesson in our literacy program. 

How have you introduced numeracy into your classroom?