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Connie McCarthy is passionate about her work as a teacher of young children. She has devoted her entire career to making sure that her students do well at school, right from the start. Connie has an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education, and a Master’s Degree in Special Education. She has been teaching first grade in East Providence, R.I. for 23 years, where she received the distinction of “Highly Qualified Teacher” by the Rhode Island State Board of Regents. Connie also taught nursery school for four years, and published numerous articles on early education in East Bay Newspapers in Bristol, R.I. She’s also been published in PTO Today Magazine. She lives with her husband, Brian, and has a daughter and a son, both young adults. Connie enjoys reading, writing about elementary education, and taking long walks with friends. During summer vacations, she likes to travel with her husband. She also loves reading readers’ comments on her weekly blog posts.

Don’t Let Language Confuse Young Math Students

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When teaching the value of double-digit numbers in my classroom, I noticed that my students often became confused with 11, 12, and the rest of the -teen numbers. This was a puzzle to me, and I was determined to solve it. After research and applying what I know about how young students learn, I realized this was not a numbers problem—it was a language problem!

In various languages around the world, there are simple words for -teen numbers. Eleven translated is 10/1, twelve is 10/2, thirteen is 10/3, etc. The numbers continue, 21, 22, 23—all the way to 99— just as in English. This was an “aha” moment for me! Counting easily from one to 10, then having to switch to “-teen” counting, was confusing my young students.

Young learners are very literal. They didn’t understand the concept of 13, but could easily understand that 10/3 meant one set of 10 and 3 more. It was a simple change that made a big difference in their understanding of the “-teen” numbers!

So I started teaching the numbers between 10 and 20 in tandem. Students practiced, understanding that another way to say 11 was 10/1, twelve 10/2, thirteen 10/3, and so on.

Now, when teaching the numbers 11-19, I always teach them in tandem. Young children love to be able to say “another way to say 15 is 10/5!”

This is something that parents can easily do at home, to help young students overcome this mathematical English language issue.


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