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Tips and Tricks: Integrating Numeracy into the Adult ESOL Classroom

27 May 2023 9:09 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Authored by Hali Massey, Adult Education SIG Leader

The definition of numeracy is “the ability to confidently interact with and engage in the mathematical demands of everyday life in the home, workplace, and community” (Ciancone, 1996). Numeracy tasks occur regularly in everyday life, and it is important for adult English language learners to have the language and context in order to engage with these tasks (Ginsburget al, 2006). In addition, the US uses several systems that are most likely new to recent immigrants, refugees, or new Americans, such as the Imperial System of measurement, monetary values, western calendars, etc., so numeracy in the adult ESOL classroom helps to orient English language learners to these systems and measurements that they will encounter in the United States. 

Examples of numeracy include: 

  • Using quantitative data to express facts and opinions, such as comparing prices or sales or analyzing statistics to make decisions or form opinions. 

  • Calculating percentages, such as when shopping and calculating sale percentages and when trying to calculate how much tax is owed or how much tip to leave.

  • Measuring items, such as knowing how much medication to take and measuring ingredients when cooking.  

Some strategies for incorporating numeracy into the adult ESOL classroom include: 

  • Incorporate numeracy into classroom texts, videos, vocabulary, tasks, and discussions by aligning ESOL content with numeracy objectives: ESOL instructors can look at their curriculum or course materials to see where numeracy aligns with their content. This ensures that numeracy objectives will be contextualized within the already established classroom curriculum. See the following examples:

Proficiency Level

ESOL Content

Numeracy Objective


Sharing personal information 

Learn names of numbers (1-100) in order to share age, birth dates, and phone numbers.


Sharing time from a clock and dates from a calendar

Use numbers to communicate the time on a clock  and dates from a calendar in order to answer the questions of “What time?” and “When?”.

High Beginner

Shopping and buying goods

Use amounts of money in dollars and cents to answer the question of “How much?”. 

Low Intermediate

Shopping and buying goods 

Use addition and subtraction to add up amounts, calculate totals, and determine balances.

Low Intermediate

Giving directions

Use differences in time to answer the question of “How long does it take to get from Point A to Point B?”.


Cooking and food 

Use whole numbers and fractions to follow and/or write a recipe. 

Example Lesson Plan


Paying bills and making a budget

Calculate a monthly budget using a given monthly income. 

High Intermediate

Paying taxes 

Use percentages to calculate food and retail tax. 



Determine the financial benefits of buying versus renting.


Paying taxes 

Use percentages to calculate state and federal income tax. 

  • Use graphics or images to represent statistics or situations that allow for numeracy discussions/activities: ESOL instructors can use graphics or images to engage learners in conversations that support learners in developing metalinguistic and metacognitive skills for processing numeracy situations in their everyday lives (Ciancone, 1996). For examples of instructional materials for this strategy, please see the members only resource section on the VATESOL website.

  • Assess how learners are using or need to use numeracy skills in their everyday lives and build off of those situations or problems. (Ciancone, 1996)

In addition, these are some best practices to follow when incorporating numeracy into the adult ESOL classroom. (Ciancone, 1996)

  • Ensure that numeracy activities are interactive, collaborative, and relevant to the everyday lives of your learners. 

  • Encourage the focus to be on thought process and not on wrong or right answers and acknowledge various ways of thinking and reaching conclusions. 

  • Scaffold with visual representations such as images, graphs, charts, drawings, etc.

  • Integrate numeracy into the adult ESOL classroom from the beginning; meaning that all levels of proficiency are engaging in numeracy activities.  


Ciancone, T. (1996) Numeracy in the Adult ESL Classroom. Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL). ro om.php#:~:text=Numeracy%20is%20the%20ability%20to,opinions%20and%20to%20analyze%20situations

Ginsburg, L., Manly, M., & Schmitt, M.J. (2006). The Components of Numeracy. National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL). resources/research/op_numeracy.pdf

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