Teaching Science to ESL Students in 6th-8th Grades

A good friend of mine taught Science to ESL Students in 6th-8th grades.  The students she taught had reached “conversational language” level, not “academic level.”  It usually takes two years to be able to communicate in a foreign language, but more to learn in that language.  Her students had one year of English instruction beforehand, and English was spoken in her classroom.  So she had a difficult task to teach students who were still on a conversational English level and not on an academic level.

Here are some tips from my friend:

  • Animation is important.  At the middle school level, students generally don’t like animation, but these ESL students looked for clues in all areas. Moving arms in directions, changing voice tones for emphasis, etc.
  • Teacher uses balls with flashlights, etc., to show the concepts of the basics of atoms, astronomy, chemistry, etc.
  • Use lots of simple visuals and drawings.

This teacher told of this example:

I had a very low English level girl from Mexico paired up with a brand new Vietnamese student with even lower English proficiency. They had to do a lab with measuring, graphing, etc. They were one of the best groups!! They communicated with pointing, moving objects, nods and smiles, and did better together than either could have apart.  And they did this totally by signals. It takes cooperation, though, and middle schoolers get embarrassed so easy.  They don’t want to appear ‘dumb’ so they act like they don’t want to do things.

This is my opinion:

Labeling was done in the first year of learning English, and I think it would still be good for students with less English profiency in the second and third years.   If they already know what the object is and how to read the word, having the label could also reinforce learning how to spell the word.