Science Strategies with English
Establish and Maintain a Science Learning
A science learning environment is
governed by accurate images of the work that scientists do. Scientific studies take place according
to communal norms, both those of the classroom and of science. In such a setting, different
perspectives about natural events are shared openly and all ideas are
considered for their validity.
Errors are seen as part of the leaning process and growth in
understanding occurs through a process of refinement, change, and even
replacement of ideas. Most
importantly, it supports the belief that all students have access to
science. In promoting these ideals
for English language learners, the teacher can:
- Establish and maintain a safe and comfortable
learning environment in which differences in background, experience, and
perspective are recognized and accepted.
- Establish and maintain a classroom environment in
which student errors are accepted as part of the learning process.
- Focus more on activities demonstrating scientific
principles and the gradual evolution of students’ thinking, and less on
whether students can recite well-polished explanations of theories,
principles, and concepts.
- Challenge the range of ideas that arise in the course
of a lesson, both those in and not in alignment with science.
- Present a well-balanced science curriculum, one that
addresses the five domains of science (NSTA, 1982): knowledge core, application,
processes, attitudes, creativity.
Teach a Well-Balanced Science Curriculum
Students must be provided learning
experiences that: (1) provide them access to the science knowledge core; (2)
offer opportunities to apply skills and newly acquired understandings to novel
situations; (3) engage them in the processes of science; (4) contribute to the
development of appropriate scientific attitudes; and (5) promote creativity in
the sciences (NSTA, 1982). A
well-balanced science curriculum provides opportunities for students to engage
in science inquiry through which they develop an accurate image of science and
the skills and understandings of science.
Specific strategies the teacher can use are:
- Give significant focus to science as a means of
inquiry into the natural world.
- Through the curriculum, encourage students to develop
questions and lines of inquiry in pursuit of answers to their own
questions in their own terms (Driver, 1989).
- Provide experiences that provoke relevant questions
from students and which lead to formulating hypotheses and designing
investigations in the pursuit of answers.
- Establish a learning environment that respects and
honors cultural diversity (TESOL, 1999) and that provides students
opportunities to engage in discourse around their own ideas and those of
other students, data, observed events, science concepts.
- Establish communal norms for the pursuit of science
and structure groups and group activities to promote learning in science:
Group students heterogeneously according to
level of English language proficiency.
Promote positive group and social behaviors
conducive to the study of science.
Monitor and provide opportunities for reflection
on group process.
Address Students’ Notions in Teaching
Students of all ages and at all
levels of the educational system possess notions of the natural world that
discord with those of science.
These notions, as part of larger, complex systems of interlinked
concepts, have predictive and explanatory value for the learner. Learners are not likely to discard
these existing notions unless they are sufficiently motivated to do so (Hewson
& Hewson, 1984). Factors
include: (1) dissatisfaction with an existing conception, (2) motivation to
change, (3) the validity of a competing idea(s). Research indicates that students of different cultures form
similar notions of natural events.
However, we also know that students’ beliefs may be influenced by
significant cultural factors in their lives, such as religion.
Know your students.
- Know the background of your students such that you
will be better able to predict student reactions to sensitive issues in
- Become familiar with research on learners’
conceptions related to a specific topic.
- Be aware of students’ interpretations of diagrams,
illustrations, data sets, etc., as students’ may interpret diagrams and
illustrations in ways that are not intended, thereby contributing to
students forming mental images that do not agree with actual natural
- Pre-assess learners for the notions they hold about
the concepts associated with the topic under study and design instruction
to directly address these conceptions
Use Strategies that Promote Conceptual Change.
impact of specific instructional processes designed to promote conceptual
change has been well documented.
Many of these models include strategies designed to directly confront
students’ existing notions.
- Use models of science teaching that focus on
promoting conceptual change in the learner
- Engage students in a task or perform a demonstration
in the opening stages of a lesson to engage students’ thinking on a topic.
- Use bridging analogies in teaching a new concept
based on experiences that are common to students.
- Incorporate models in teaching and model building in
- Use writing activities and discussion as a way to
engage student reflection on their own beliefs.
Teach Academic Language through Science
Middle and high school students
access much of the science curriculum through language. In order to improve access, teachers
must help ELLs learn the discipline-specific English used in science
discourse. Oral and written
language activities are tools to learning science when the science curriculum
integrates content and language objectives. Teaching activities focus on use of
textbooks, addressing vocabulary, and oral and written communication.
- Help students attend to the organization and written
style of their science textbooks.
- Give attention to discipline-specific language
features (e.g., “if…then”, use of “is”)
- Teach discipline-specific comprehension strategies.
- Define terms explicitly and require students to use
- Teach the meaning of topic-specific words. Help students to see the
difference in the common and scientific meanings of words (e.g., force).
- Provide an appropriate context for introducing
- Teach new vocabulary on a daily basis.
- Provide adequate exposure to words students encounter
in their lessons and readings.
Construct a science word wall.
- Encourage students to use subject specific vocabulary
in their conversations.
- Set high yet appropriate expectations for student
writing and oral language use in science. Require students to use Standard
English in their speech and writing.
- Structure students’ writing assignments to promote
thinking and writing of scientific discourse.
- Provide written corrective feedback on a weekly
basis. Meet with
students to discuss their writing.
- Design language activities that engage students in
discussion, learning logs or journals, report writing, etc.
Use “Best Practices” in Teaching
- Focus on the big ideas, key concepts, the learning of
which can be transferred to similar contexts.
- Facilitate classroom discourse around concepts that
emerge from observation of natural events.
- Provide “hands-on/minds-on” experiences with
materials and realia.
- Provide students a common experience that serves as
the focus of a lesson
- Use appropriate questioning and questioning
strategies (e.g., wait time) to engage all students in classroom
- Provide sufficient opportunity for students to apply,
elaborate, expand, and refine concepts through engagement with phenomena.
- Provide appropriate instruction in science