4 Tips for Teaching English Through Science

In this blog, I would like to talk about how English can be taught to elementary age children through science. Many classroom teachers that I have worked with have reported that science was especially hard for their multilingual learners (MLLs). This post shows how these students can succeed in science class—and make great strides in their English language acquisition—if the language and content of science is modified for them and they are provided with the appropriate supports. Here are four ways to do this.

1. Support MLLs in Learning the Language of Science

  • Choose what vocabulary words need to be taught for your unit of study. Don’t overwhelm your students with too many new words during one lesson.
  • Preteach all new words through the use of charts, graphs, diagrams, and pictures. Present new vocabulary in a science context.
  • Give MLLs plenty of opportunities to practice new vocabulary and use it during the science lesson and subsequent class discussions.
  • Put the new vocabulary on a science word wall. It’s important to separate science vocabulary from everyday words so that MLLs can concentrate on it during science lessons. Eventually, you’ll want to have students use these new words during experiments and other science activities.

2. Make Science Content Comprehensible

Some teachers who teach science to MLLs have told me that they provide a packet of science notes to their students at the beginning of each unit. This allows MLLs to concentrate on teacher instruction and class discussion. These notes should contain pictures and other visuals so that students can better understand what is being taught. The notes can provide a supplement or alternative text to the science textbook for MLLs, who may find that the sentence structure in science textbooks is too difficult and that too many ideas are presented on a single page.

Another issue that MLLs often have in science class is the rate of speaking by the teacher. My MLLs often felt that teachers speak too fast. If educators slow down their rate of speech and differentiate the content, students should be able to get much of what is being taught. Most MLLs will not be able to follow what is being said in the typical science classroom—and take notes at the same time—if the content is not differentiated for them.

3. Model Experiments and Science Reading and Writing

All science teachers should model how to do experiments, take lab notes, and conduct other key science procedures. However, they also need to model for MLLs how to pronounce science vocabulary, what kind of procedures are appropriate for science class, and how to read science material. Here are a few strategies:

  • Teach MLLs to highlight important concepts and to find the main idea in reading.
  • Follow up reading with writing exercises.
  • Use word banks, sentence starters, and diagrams to help students to write about science topics.

4. Provide MLLs With Real Reasons to Study Science

My elementary school held a science fair every year in March. Completing an experiment became a part of my curriculum so that MLLs could participate in the fair. It is important for MLLs of all ages to learn scientific language that is appropriate for their grade and English language development level and to give them a real reason to learn science. My students in Grades K–3 completed a group project on animals in different biomes. Those in Grades 4–6 prepared their own experiments using the scientific method.

All of the work was done in class so that the experiments were produced by the students without outside help. For MLLs to participate in the fair, it was important to teach them how to do the following:

  1. Ask a central question about what they want to find out.
  2. Understand the language of science, such as experiment, research, observe, analyze, and hypothesize, which are key terms when teaching an experiment.
  3. Hypothesize what they think will happen based on research that is done.
  4. Test the hypothesis by conducting an experiment.
  5. Modify the hypothesis if necessary.
  6. Share the results at the fair.

What I loved about this project is that MLLs got to talk about their projects with their classmates during the fair, providing rich and authentic interaction and communication. They also showed their work to their families, who all turned out the night of the fair.

About Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes
Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and is the author and coauthor of eight books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress“ with Debbie Zacarian and Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz. She was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher" and is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.
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One Response to
4 Tips for Teaching English Through Science

  1. Deborah Short says:

    Very practical suggestions, Judie! Thank you. I’d add one more idea. Create integrated science and language units around an area of inquiry. Having an essential (or big) question can engage the students. These questions should not have easy answers but should prompt students to think about scientific phenomena in their lives and tap knowledge and experiences they have. Then all the experiments, readings, and vocabulary learning will be purposeful–in service of answering the essential question. If the units culminate with a collaborative project, all the better for our multilingual learners to share the knowledge they gained while working with peers and having rich and authentic interactions, as you have mentioned.

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