Teaching Science Language for English Language Learners


Tip: Teaching Science Language

Given the upcoming science standards, due out any time now, Lee, Quinn, and Valdes (2013) have made suggestions for supporting English Language Learners in meeting the linguistic demands of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  Lee et al. (2013) say that the higher linguistic demands of the NGSS parallel those of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and that their recommendations may apply to teaching the academic content and language of both sets of standards.  They call for a shift in how we think about teaching language learners from the typical language first then content to an experience first with language support disposition.  

The idea is that when teachers set up meaningful science activities with opportunities for language use students will do science through science practices like developing and using models and as they do they will, for example, interact and communicate with peers, describe their model, and explain phenomenon.  A classroom example: when teaching a lesson on how the unequal heating and rotation of the earth cause weather patterns and regional climates, students will collect weather data from the internet, online weather maps and from home thermometers for their county over time and share and compare it to a sister classroom in another part of the country.  Beginning with a hands-on experience and real-life data sets up an "analytic task" that allows them "to make sense of and construct scientific knowledge" (p. 230).  The teacher's role is to support student language use during these experiences to help them learn "the language of the science classroom that includes the registers (i.e. styles of talk) used by teachers and students as they participate in academic tasks and activities that demonstrate their knowledge in oral and written forms" (p. 228).  

If a teacher gives students a meaningful, rich, and engaging scientific task or problem, students will use scientific practices and science language to address the task.  The teacher will need to be strategic in providing supports (e.g. science graphic organizers, models, word walls, personal dictionaries, picture dictionaries, content dictionaries etc.) so that English Learners will progress in their language development as they do science.  This sort of teaching is also a way to think about how to engage English Language Learners in meaningful activities as a way to learn academic language.  The trick is to be certain that the activities and contexts teachers create will provide not only activities that will ask students to engage in analytic science practices but will also provide opportunities for language use.  That means partner work, group work, real-life questions and dilemmas with language support.



(Lee, Quinn, & Valdes (2013).  Science and Language for English Language Learners in Relation to Next Generation Science Standards and with Implications for Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics. Educational Researcher, Vol 42, No. 4, pp. 223-233.)

Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen
Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen


Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up.

Everyday ELL is now Every Language Learner.