Monday, June 11, 2012


You have ELLs in your science class.  There are only a few of them scattered throughout the room.  How do you decide WHICH words must be expressly taught and WHICH only need to be touched upon?  Going strictly by the content vocabulary words the publisher has identified as IMPORTANT is not the best route to follow since the basic academic vocabulary needed to understand the text might be totally unfamiliar to them.  Teachers need to preview the material to look for academic vocabulary that ELLs will need help with so that they fully participate in activities based on common core.  In a word, science teachers must become English teachers.

EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES FOR TEACHING SCIENCE VOCABULARY  is a site that offers some excellent teaching tips on addressing this scenario.  Students must hear the word, see it, recognize it when they read it, use it in making scientific arguments, write it in lab reports/research, etc.  If they are new at learning English, they need the support of sentence frames to internalize the vocabulary in context.  These frames can be accessed as needed in any of the language skill areas:  listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Do this on a regular basis in the class period (or part of the day when science is taught) and students will ALSO grow in their English language skills (big side benefit).

Many strategies are addressed here, but here are some of my favorites:

Graphic organizers where the focus is on building language is number one with me.  See the example.  In it, there is the main word in the center.  From that center point, students add synonyms, definition, picture, and a sentence.  I have even had kids keep them on a binder ring for easy access.  Over time, they build their own content language "dictionary." Have students quiz each other right before quizzes with the weaker student quizzing the stronger one first.  This way the weaker one has an opportunity to review the words before he is tested.

Word parts is an area that can be addressed in many content classes. The more word parts (affixes) a student knows, the richer the student's vocabulary will be.  Science is rich in Latin and Greek affixes.  Take for example -ology (the study of).  Add BIO- and you have biology.  GEO and you have geology.  Build a class list of important affixes on a wall chart and leave it up there for all students to refer to as needed.  Over time, students won't feel the need to check the list as much because they will have internalized it in long term memory.

Keep discussions in the ACTIVE VOICE "The moon controls the tides" as opposed to PASSIVE VOICE "The tide is controlled by the moon."

You have some successful strategies of your own as do your colleagues.  Collaborate on this area.  The more teaching tools at your disposal, the more successful ALL of your students will be in studying science!



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