Science textbooks are among the most difficult for students to read and yet they are expected to gain information from reading their textbook or various websites. These texts are often very dense and have the complex sentence structure necessary to express scientific thought. Science teachers incorporate a range of active reading tasks, such as sequencing sentences and modelling the logical transition of ideas (“text cohesion”) using methods like pronoun reference, to improve EAL student literacy. Science teachers often employ two types of activities within their lessons: reconstruction and analysis. Reconstruction activities require students to engage with text that has been changed by a teacher and must be completed. Analysis requires students to categorize the information within a text by marking or labelling. The practice of text analysis is the first step for an EAL student to become an independent, life-long learner.
Practicing science requires EAL learners use precise language and conventions to explain key scientific ideas. Perhaps a science lesson’s most redeeming quality for an EAL student is practical work. Practical work in lesson is a wonderful opportunity to practice language. Students collaborate with their peers by using language to describe what they observed. Although they must eventually use precise the language required, practical work provides a forum for EAL students to explain their observations using the language that they know. It is best practice within a science lesson to provide as many opportunities to go from the concrete to the abstract and to allocate significant time to observe and talk about scientific processes before reading or writing about them.
As teachers at an international school it is our responsibility to become experts in teaching essential language skills within our own subjects. Part of a teacher’s job is to research these best practices, implement them into their own lessons, and assess whether they are effective for our students. The challenges that EAL students face in the classroom are significant, but in my experience, students are capable of acquiring an impressive amount of language in a short time when given proper guidance and appropriate expectations.
Mr John Kamitsuka
DfES 2002, Access and engagement in Science.
“Teaching EAL Learners in Science,” The Bell Foundation, accessed March 2021.