13 MARCH 2018
Language Skills in the Science Classroom
Language is our main tool for helping students learn science, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. The language of science can be challenging for students, and science can seem difficult as a result. As we know, this can be due to:
1. Complex scientific terminology.
2. Words in science that mean something different in everyday life like weight, force and incident. Trying to understand the meaning of familiar words in a different context is a challenge for students.
3. Logical connectives, which are the words that suggest addition (and), opposition (otherwise), cause (because) and time (after) are essential to construct a scientific argument but can be confusing for students.
4. The language of science doesn’t just involve words. Students also build their understanding through graphs, maths, equations, symbols and diagrams. These different forms can help students’ understanding, but introducing mathematics can create new barriers.
5. Scientific reports are often written in the passive voice, which students can find confusing.
Focus on the three skills
So how can you support your students in using language in science classrooms? Let’s focus on three skills areas: speaking, reading and writing.
Often, we ask questions that we already know the answer to, students answer and we tell them if they’re right or wrong. Usually that means they are only using basic conversational language. So how can you engage your students in discussion using scientific language?
Students should be able to build ideas from reading scientific writing. To do so they need to develop skills in reflective reading. Reading activities which can help to build learning and build students’ skills in reflective reading are called Directed Activities Related to Text (DARTS). In DARTS students deconstruct or construct text to help them understand it. You could try some of the following in your teaching.
There are different types of writing. Students will learn if they have to think while they are doing the writing. Writing can be classified into three types. All three types can help to expose student ideas, help you assess what to teach next and work out what support is needed.
Focussing on the three skills of speaking, reading and writing can really help students think and learn in English, and remove the barriers to their success in science.
Excerpts of this infographic are taken from Approaches to learning and teaching Science
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