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'Talking Maths': Focus on under-attaining EAL pupils in Year 5

Case Study
  • Authored by: Karen Bathe
  • Status: Approved


What were your reasons for doing this type of development work?

To support under-attaining EAL pupils in Year 5, by developing their understanding of mathematical language and their confidence to use it to explore mathematical concepts. The children had limited understanding of general mathematical vocabulary and were not confident to explain their reasoning. This impacted on their ability to take part in whole class, group and paired work and therefore on their progress in maths.


Who might find this case study useful?

  • Headteacher
  • LA adviser
  • Middle leader
  • National Strategies consultant
  • Senior leadership team (SLT)
  • SIP (School Improvement Partner)
  • Subject leader
  • Teacher
  • Teaching assistant

Key points

Point 1

Implementing the successful Liverpool 'Talking Maths' programme for Year 5 EAL pupils

Point 2

Under-attaining EAL pupils made significant progress towards reaching age related expectation by the end of KS2


  • Author: Karen Bathe


What specific curriculum area, subject or aspect did you intend to have impact on?

  • English - speaking and listening
  • Mathematics
  • PSHE

How did you intend to impact on pupil learning?

  • Through increasing the pupils contribution and confidence in group work and pair work
  • Increasing familiarity with, and ability to use, mathematical vocabulary accurately and effectively within a range of contexts
  • To develop the pupils’ confidence to recognise where particular words can be used to identify properties, relationships and situations within a mathematical focus
  • To raise the academic attainment of a sample of our EAL pupils, to prepare them to meet age appropriate level by the end of KS2

What were your success criteria?

  • The pupils attitude to maths improved - pupil questionnaire
  • The pupils use of mathematical language improved - assessment of the use of mathematical language (Liverpool Talking Maths)
  • The pupils attainment in maths accelerated - End of Year 5 optional National Curriculum tests and Teacher Assessment

PLEASE NOTE this page has three tabs - click 'Next tab' below or use tabs above to see Teaching approaches and CPD approaches


What information or data did you use to measure progress towards your success criteria?

  • Observation outcomes
  • Periodic teacher assessment
  • Pupil consultation data
  • Test results

What did you do? What teaching approaches (pedagogy) did you use to achieve the intended impact?

  • Assessment for Learning (AfL)
  • Collaborative group work
  • Interventions
  • Problem solving
  • Use of thinking skills

Describe the teaching approaches you used

The sample group followed a programme of three carefully planned and prepared intervention sessions every week for ten weeks. 

Each session comprised of two different ten minute activities, aimed at appealing to a wide range of learning styles.

These included:

  • 'On the table'– where the pupils were encouraged to discuss and share their knowledge of a range of objects
  • 'Problem puppet’ – where mathematical problems were introduced,‘caused’ or reflected upon by a consistent puppet character
  • 'Copy cats'’ – which involved a number of barrier games in which the children were expected to use the language that they had acquired in earlier sessions to explain something with clarity to a partner.
  • 'What's different' - use mathematical language to compare and contrast
  • 'Let's Say, let's Play' - using a range of mathematical language in music, drama and games
  • 'Detectives'- Mathematical mystery to solve collaboratively



What did you do? What approaches to CPD and learning for adults were used?

  • Lesson observation
  • Mentoring
  • Training

Describe the CPD approaches you used

The EAL Coordinator/maths Subject Leader and Teaching Assistant involved in the programme attended a series of training/ support meetings before and during the project led by the LA Advisers. These were particularly useful in providing the staff involved with the following:

  • Opportunities to familiarise themselves with the relevant resources and help available
  • To share expertise and experiences between contrasting schools also participating in the project
  • To observe modelled sessions from colleagues
  • The LA Advisers visited the participating schools to observe the programme in operation and provided support and advice


What CPD materials, research or expertise have you drawn on?

Who provided you with support?

  • External agency
  • Middle leader
  • Subject leader

How were you supported?

The LA Advisers carried out the following actions:

  • Led the introduction of Liverpool Mathematics/EMTAS Team's Talking Maths Programme
  • Visited the schools to observe the programme in operation and provide support and advice
  • Coordinated communication and sharing of ideas and experiences between participating schools

Funding was provided to allow Headteachers to release staff to plan, create resources and lead the Talking Maths sessions. The staff were also released to attend regular network meetings.


What has been the overall impact on pupil learning?

Most pupils have grown in confidence and shown improvement in their attitude, involvement and performance in whole class maths lessons.

The initial and final assessments show a big improvement in pupils' understanding and ability to use general mathematical vocabulary.

The interventions have also had a significant role to play in the raising of academic standards in this particular group, as shown by their progress measured by the Optional National Curriculum tests maths papers and Teacher Assessment.

The target children have been enabled to extend their mathematical vocabulary and now most of them are very active and confident contributors to whole class, group and pair activities, working now with minimum adult support to solve mathematical problems.

Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

The project has had a positive impact on the EAL pupils who participated in the intervention sessions. Being part of a much smaller group has inspired the pupils to have greater confidence to have a go and a desire to make use of the language that they've acquired in their group activity during their daily maths lessons. It has been noted that these particular pupils have steadily become more precise in their use of language to explain and justify their mathematical ideas.

Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

Class Teacher - "I found the girls were more ready to use the vocabulary and didn't shy away."

Headteacher - "It is truly excellent that children have benefited so noticeably in such a short space of time. The fun, hands on, chatting environment could benefit so many other children in our school."

Pupil - "I love my Maths group because we have the funny puppets to help us. I also like it when the Maths is hard because I am not scared to make mistakes!"

Pupil - "When I talk through problems, I understand numbers better."

Pupil - "I like the chance to talk about and solve problems with a partner."

Quantitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Periodic teacher assessment
  • Test results

Qualitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Observation outcomes
  • Pupil consultation data

Describe the evidence of impact on pupil learning

Primary EAL Maths Project Swindon 2010:   Pupil questionnaire analysis 

The children completed a questionnaire about their class maths lessons, before the project and again afterwards.

The questions were also designed to generate discussion, both for the pupils within the safe environment of the group, and amongst staff.

The pupils’ responses confirmed the feedback received from class teachers, that the pupils had grown more confident and were participating more in oral activities in class.

The 18 children were asked to respond to statements on a scale of 1 to 5 (negative to positive). All of the five questions about oral participation in lessons showed a significant increase in positive response. The other seven questions showed a smaller change.

In class I ask for help if I don’t understand what to do         +14%

I can explain how I worked things out                                 +17.6%

I discuss with a partner in class                                           +31.4%

I join in the discussion in my group in class                          +23.7%

I put my hand up in class                                                    +15.7%

The response to “My teachers check that I understand my lessons” was pleasingly high (81/90 increasing to 84/90 ).

The response in June of -6.6% to “I am interested in the things I learn in maths” raises the question of whether the children found the topics less interesting in the Summer term, or whether they were just more honest by then!

Assessment of the use and understanding of mathematical language

The children were verbally assessed using the Liverpool Talking Maths assessment sheets at the beginning and end of the 10 week intervention.  All children showed an increased confidence in whole class maths lessons and increased their mathematical vocabulary.

End of Year 5 data

  • 19 EAL, Y5 children from 4 schools
  • 17 children had end of Y4 data (2 were new to the country in Year 5)
  • All 19 children were not at age related expectation at the end of Year 4

Y4 – Y5 progress

No match data = 2/19 = 11%

No progress = 2/19 = 11%

1 sublevel progress = 6/19 = 32%

2 sublevel progress = 4/19 = 21%

2+ sublevel progress = 9/19 = 47%

At age related expectation (3A) = 5/19 = 26%

Just below age related expectation (3B) = 7/19 – 37%

Potential to reach age related expectation by the end of Year 6 (L4) = 12/19 = 63%


What has been the impact on teaching?

The project has had a positive effect in highlighting the need to provide pupils with the opportunity to talk about their maths more frequently, and in promoting the teachers role as a facilitator, encouraging the children's discussions to inform planning in the subject, rather than in a leading role. The project has suggested new ideas for activities that are specifically aimed at enhancing the children's mathematical language, while appealing to a range of different learning styles.

The schools' participation in the project has affected the way in which those individuals involved consider planning and assessment in the subject. It has raised the importance of planning in regular opportunities for the children to undertake talk only activities, and made the participants think more closely about how a pupil's oral responses to a mathematical activity can be recorded and assessed. It has also prompted the teaching staff involved to consider their own use of maths specific language, and how more abstract terminology can be taught effectively to children with little prior experience of these.

Talk for Maths has really emphasised the importance of using the correct mathematical vocabulary by staff, but also to give pupils time to use this vocabulary correctly to share their ideas and reasoning with their peers and in whole class activities. It has also emphasised the need to give pupils time to “Talk Maths” and in the case of underachieving pupils or limited vocabulary, for the provision of extra time and support to develop these language skills, during small group work outside the classroom.

Thoughts you think are relevant to impact on teaching

Reflection from school's involved

The support of the LA Advisers has been critical to the CPD of all involved.  The sharing ideas and resources with other schools has helped to guide the introduction of the programme at the school. The programme and techniques will be introduced to the wider school, not just EAL, through a focus on Y2 and Y3 pupils.

There were elements of the project that could be successfully applied to mainstream classes, such as:

  • Introducing a new topic in the subject by adapting the ‘On the Table’ activity, with different items on a number of tables for small groups to discuss (with the teacher listening in to the conversations – for initial assessment purposes).
  • ‘Problem Puppet’ could be modified for use with a larger class group – talking through the puppet to introduce a relevant problem or mistake.  Addressing the children’s errors or misconceptions by having the puppet make a similar mistake, allowing the children to reflect on that.
  • The Talking Maths project as it stands is most useful in pre-teaching specific language, so that the children involved are prepared to make use of this. 

Quotes you think are relevant to the impact on teaching

Class teacher - ” I can plan for more challenging tasks with the group because of their previous experience of the mathematical vocabulary in the ‘Talking Maths’ session.

Class teacher - “I found the girls were more ready to use the vocabulary and didn’t shy away”

Class Teacher - “It means that the children are more confident in using and understanding the vocabulary.  I have noticed a marked improvement in how often these children are actively involved in the lessons – they certainly speak up more frequently.”

Evidence of impact on teaching

  • Evidence from observation and monitoring
  • Evidence from planning
  • Improvements in curriculum documentation
  • Teacher perceptions

Describe the evidence of impact on teaching

Evidence from school’s involved

As Deputy Head, I have observed snippets of various lessons. All lessons have had children truly engaged and increasingly keen to use dialogue. Lessons have become more planned to suit the characteristics of the four children involved.

The planning and assessment methods have improved focus on mathematical vocabulary.  Use of assessment for learning notes, anotated photographs and video to capture learning has enabled useful feedback to be given by the Teaching Assistant to the Class Teacher and it is used to adapt whole class and group planning.

The sessions observed by the LA Advisers showed evidence of open questions to encourage dialogue, were engaging and the children enjoyed 'Talking Maths'.

What has been the impact on school organisation and leadership?

The success of the project has led the schools and individuals involved to consider how it can be rolled out as a worthwhile intervention programme across the schools.  It clearly has the potential to be used with both KS1 and KS2 children, and needs to feature in the organisation of other additional support sessions and interventions across the school.  Time must be available for the sessions to be conducted to best effect, and to provide the children with sufficient time to responsed orally to their experiences during the activities.  Opportunities must be planned in for the Teacher and Teaching Assistant involved in the project to disseminate the information that they have received, and to share their advice of how to get the best out of these sessions.  This could take the form of staff meeting time devoted to introducing the scheme to other teaching staff, and the informal training of teaching support staff in the processes of planning, preparation and assessment involved.

One school aims to widen the impact of the Talk for Maths Programme by heightening the awareness and use of Talk for Maths style activities in Year 2 and Year 3 to aid transition from KS1 to KS2. This will also aim to improve all pupils ability to explain their reasoning, understanding of mathematical ideas using correct mathematical vocabulary. This will aid children in learning from each other and in sharing their ideas.

Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on school organisation and leadership

For the intervention to be most worthwhile the school’s senior management team needs to be behind it.  They must prioritise the importance of raising standards in the use and understanding of mathematical language, and provide staff sufficient time and resources for preparation, teaching, assessment and liaison time with the class teacher.

The school leadership should recognise how the undertaking of these interventions can have a positive effect on the types of activities planned on a weekly basis, the impact that these will have in the long term by providing children with the language skills to make it explicit what they have understood, and what they need further support with.

Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on school organisation and leadership

“I believe that this project would be worthwhile to roll out across other year groups, not solely with EAL pupils. The strategies employed would be great to use with younger EAL pupils.” (EAL Co-ordinator)

Evidence of impact on school organisation and leadership

  • Improved tracking spreadsheet, aiding early identification of language barriers to learning
  • Improved communication between teachers and teaching assistants, through access to planning
  • Subject Leaders supporting EAL Teaching Assistant with subject knowledge, pedagogy and pitch and expectation


What is the crucial thing that made the difference?

  • Practical approach with a small group
  • Focus on talking rather than recording, which reduced the anxiety and fear of failure
  • Activities were focused and fun
  • Regular time slot and space to work
  • Support from Senior Management

What key resources would people who want to learn from your experience need access to?

Talking Maths materials from Liverpool LA - contact paul.watkinson@liverpool.gov.uk

Most resources are available in school to deliver the sessions - see resource list


What CPD session and resources were particularly useful?

The initial 'launch' for the Teaching assistants and subject leaders, led by the LA maths and EAL Advisers.  This was a valuable experience in instructing the participants how to deliver the sessions, how they were structured, and how the assessment and resource materials can be used to best effect.

The regular meetings with the schools involved enabled the participants to not feel so isolated and provided an opportunity to share ideas and resources.

The Use of the Overcoming Barriers and Securing level documents provided quality ideas 'pitched' at the correct level for the Teaching Assistants to use.

If another individual or school was attempting to replicate this work, where would they start and what would the essential elements be?

  • Careful selection of the children with a mathematical language barrier that is causing slow progress
  • Group of no larger than six children
  • Regular time slots allowing 30min per session (two activities) outside of the main maths lesson.  (The original 20min was found to be not sufficient)
  • Good partnership and communication between the TA and Class Teacher(s)
  • Time allocated to the TA for quality preparation and assessment


What further developments are you planning to do (or would you like to see others do)?

  • Roll out the 'Talking Maths' intervention across the school(s) to other Year groups
  • Broaden the selection of children for the programme - not just EAL
  • Roll out the 'Talking Maths' intervention to other schools through Subject Leader and cluster meetings
  • Share the resources and activities with teachers across the schools involved to incorporate some of the aspects into whole class and group sessions

Miscellaneous additional information

This project has only been successful because of the hard work and dedication of the colleagues and schools involved. Thank you.

LA EAL Adviser - Mrs S Grainger

St Mary's Catholic Primary - Mr C McCavera, Mrs M Dias

Holy Rood Junior School - Mr R Christian, Miss K O'Donnell

Even Swindon Primary School - Mrs T Badenski, Mrs J Read

Eldene Primary School - Mr s Gale, Mrs R Whitby


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