How do low scores in expressive and receptive language impact our students’ ability to do math? For a long time, I think I zoned out when the SLP was sharing the results of her scores on evaluations. But, not anymore! I’m see that these areas can impact a student’s ability to complete classroom tasks.

Our job is to be constantly be looking at ways to help and accommodation them.

Expressive Language

Expressive language is a persons ability to express their needs, wants, ideas, and thoughts. It is their ability to use either words, phrases, or sentences to be able to communicate with others.

For students with weaknesses in this area, what might we see?

  • We might see a student who is struggling to read or recall various numbers or math words aloud.
  • We might see a student who is having a hard time answering problems or questions aloud.
  • We might see a student who has a hard time explaining their thinking. For example, think of the student who knew what to do and did it all on their own, but their ability to explain that to others is incredibly hard for them.  

5 Strategies To Help Students with Expressive Language Deficits

Teacher Led Explanations

The most supportive strategy requires you to do the majority of the explaining.

For example: you notice your student has the correct answer on his paper, but it having a hard time articulating his response. You could start by sharing exactly what he did and asking for their confirmation throughout the process.

Asking Questions

To provide support without doing all of the talking, ask students questions.

Example Questions

  • What did you do first?
  • Where did you look in this problem first?
  • Then what did you do?
  • I see two minus seven, what was your thinking here?

True or False & Yes or No

For some students, they can’t always put the process into words on their own, but they could answer true or false questions or yes or no questions.


  • Is it true that I usually start in the ones column?
  • Yes or No: If I have two, can I take away seven?

Sentence Stems

With practice, some of your students might be able to easily share about their math process. For others, they are able to explain the process with sentence stems.

I like to train my students to use words like, first, then, and finally to help explain their work.

Word Wall

For students who require less support, a word wall or reference sheet with math vocabulary can be extremely helpful as they search for words to explain their thinking.

Receptive Language

Receptive language is the language that we receive. Students use receptive language as they listen to the teacher or other students talking. Students who have a strength in receptive language understand the words as they are spoken.

For students with weaknesses in this area, what might we see?

  • We might see a student that is asking for things to be repeated more than others.
  • We might see a student have a hard time following directions.
  • We might see a student that is having a hard time understanding the math terms. This might be things like tens, ones, sum, multiplication, dividend, subtract, etc.
  • We might see a student have difficulties with word problems.

9 Strategies To Help Students with Receptive Language Deficits

Naturally Repeating Oral Language

Asking for things to be repeated all the time can be embarrassing for students. For others, they may not even realize that they need to ask for things to be repeated. Instead, be mindful of your students’ needs. Try to naturally repeat everything as many times as possible.

If you’re feeling like a broken record, ask another student to tell the class or students what you’ve just said.

Show AND Tell

When giving directions orally, do your best to also show them what to do. If you’re asking students to get out their pencil, a ruler, and their math book, lay the items under the document camera for them to see.

Wait Time

For some students, they can receive language with additional time. It’s easy to get into a rush. When possible, be sure to provide additional wait time for students to process information.

Use a Word Wall

As mentioned above, a word wall is perfect for students to use when they can’t find the right word. Well, guess what? It’s also useful for students to reference when they don’t understand a word that has been spoken.

A word wall, paired with extra wait time, can be very help for allowing students to understand what has been shared aloud.

This Week’s Focus Word Wall

A word wall is wonderful, but it can also be overwhelming. There are SO many math terms that we might be sifting through in order to find the word we need.

Instead, try having a handful of words that you are using for this week or unit. Then, students don’t need to search here, there, and everywhere. They know right where to look.

Use Models, Pictures, and Manipulatives

Each math topic will require different materials. However, using visual aides will help your students hear, see, and understand skills in a more concrete way.

I want you to really think and watch your students. Are they struggling to communicate their thoughts? Are they struggling to process the things that you’re saying? Are they struggling in both of those areas? What things are you seeing that with one little tweak might make a BIG difference?

Be mindful, and do your best to incorporate some of these things into your classroom regularly.