(The interesting stats mentioned in the title are at the end of the post.)

One of my favorite lessons (pair of lessons, actually) for freshman oral English is the math unit. That’s partly because I really enjoy teaching math and enjoy teaching things other than language, and partly because the activities are fun for both them and me. Not that they don’t learn language in the lesson, nor do I plan boring lessons all the other weeks of the year. But these are two of my fav’s.

The first class is about math terms and functions. They generally know “plus” and “minus” but not “add” and “subtract.” This may not seem important when reading a math sentence – “2+3=5” comes out “Two plus three equals (*or* is) five.” But if I ask what they’re doing, they say they’re “plussing.” Um, no. So we go over both sets of verbs for +, -, x, and … wait. Did you ever realize there’s only one verb for /? “Four divided by two is two. I’m dividing four by two, and the quotient is two.” Odd, isn’t it? We carry on that way – carry, borrow, long division, multiplying with a matrix (I’ll be happy to teach you if you don’t know how to do that!)… The students have to tell me each step to do for the bigger problems while I follow their directions on the board. Then we cover geometry – perimeter, area, volume, circumference, pi… They generally know it all in Chinese, but only bits and pieces in English.

Did you know that “and” means “plus” or “point” in English math terms, but should never be used in whole numbers? For instance, 127 is read “one (hundred) twenty-seven.” “One hundred and twenty-seven” means “100 + 27,” or “one hundred and twenty-seven hundredths” means “100.27”. I tell them that, but then explain that they’re welcome to use “and” in whole numbers anyway – everyone else who’s not a math teacher does, and after all, I’m there to teach realistic spoken English!

The second half of class we break into four large groups and have a word problem race. Each team gets one question at a time, which they must solve using math and English (if they use Chinese they have to start a new problem and leave that one for the end, no matter how close to an answer they were). When they come up with the answer, they bring the question back and tell me the answer with a complete sentence. I get a lot of “Three” instead of “He has three apples left,” and then they have to stop, think, and say it again correctly, before they can take the next question. It’s always lots of fun, and the fifteen questions take them at least half an hour, especially with two of them being trick questions that require more attention to the language than the math.

Lesson two is about comparing parts and wholes. We go over language like “a part of,” “most of,” “the bulk of,” and terms associated with percents, ratios, and fractions. I pass a paper around the class to take a poll about siblings, then each group of four people comes up with a two-question poll of their own to take. Once they’ve collected data, I explain the parts of a line graph, a bar graph, and a pie chart using the data that I’ve collected, and each group puts a chart or graph showing their data on the board.

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera all three days, so you can’t see a picture of the beautiful blackboard when they’d finished with it. It looked like an advertisement for colored chalk or, in a different medium, for a color printer. Quite impressive!

In case you’re curious, here’s a sample of the line graph, bar graph, and pie chart that I made in each class, this time using all four classes’ data instead of just one class. Some of the graphs came out as I’d expected in some of the classes, but in one or two classes none of them turned out the way I’d anticipated! I’d love for you to share your reactions in the comments section, but please be a bit thoughtful as you write, since I live here 🙂

*(remember that my classes have a ratio of about five or six women to each man, so the low numbers for men’s siblings are mostly because there aren’t that many men in my classes to have siblings!)*

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