How to use a language experience approach during a science experiment
Authentic texts do not have to be narratives; they can be factual as well. Cooking recipes, science experiments and other instructional texts are an excellent resource because when students engage with these texts they are developing their language and literacy skills for a meaningful purpose. Apart from many of the topic/technical words (which are imperative for students to learn), the surrounding text is often very simple.
Often hands on experiences such as cooking can provide the catalyst for later discussion, writing and reading. This is often referred to as ‘language experience’. Students engage in the experience, talk about it to build vocabulary and then create texts on their own or with teacher scaffolding which they later read. This is why in many schools the EAL/D teacher supports students during science/history/ geography and so forth..
Language experience: Integrating oral and written language during Science
Context: A Year 8 or 9 class and predominantly EAL learners.
Students are familiar with conducting experiments and so understand some of the relevant technical/topic language. It is a whole class situation, but they work in groups of four at their laboratory tables to conduct the experiment.
Hands-on experience Experiment: Setting Up and Testing Your Zinc-Air Battery
Below is just the beginning of the experiment. You can find the complete experiment at this web site.
Prepare the saltwater electrolyte for your zinc-air battery:
- a. Place the bowl on your scale and put the balance back to zero (tare the scale).
- b. Weigh 25 grams (g) of table salt (NaCl) into the bowl.
- c. Fill your measuring cup with 500 milliliters (mL) of tap water.
- d. Add the water into the bowl with your weighed salt.
- e. Stir the solution with a clean spoon until all salt is dissolved.
Topic words: saltwater, scale, electrolyte, zinc-air, battery, solutions, millilitres, water, dissolve, scale, tare
Action verbs: place, weigh, fill, add, stir, put Sight/common words: (apart from the action verbs, many of which are also common) — the, on, bowl, your, back, to, of, into
Phonics: Some of the words can be used when explicitly teaching word sound patterns (place, fill etc.)
Teaching and learning experience over several lessons
- Build up the field about the content under exploration, but make it quick as some students get very disengaged if too much time is taken at this stage. They want to do it! After the ‘doing’ is the best time to unpack.
- Label all the relevant nouns (objects) or match them with pictures on a worksheet or the interactive whiteboard — bowl, scale and so forth.
- Provide each student with a copy of the experiment. The teacher reads this aloud, pointing to the nouns (objects) and miming some of the actions as s/he reads them. Don’t spend too much time giving a detailed explanation at this stage. The aim is to get the overall gist.
At their respective lab tables, in groups of four, students do the experiment as you read one step at a time. ‘Place the bowl ...’ and so forth. As a student does this say, ‘Ahmed is placing the bowl on the scale,’ etc. Take photos.
After the experiment, talk about what happened, modelling topic language and writing up topic language on a word wall or the interactive white board. Where appropriate talk about letter sound relationships and language patterns in words such as bowl and fill.
In groups of four students complete the following or similar:
- Retell the steps of the experiment using the experiment objects or talk about the actions and objects using photos.
- Complete a teacher prepared oral and/or written cloze to strengthen their understandings of the technical vocabulary.
- Complete a teacher prepared text reconstruction of the instructions for the experiment.
- Use tools such as Book Creator or PowerPoint to record oral text to accompany a photo.
- Write an explanation to accompany one of the photos and add to Book Creator or PowerPoint.
You might plan for students to now repeat the experiment. This enables students to further consolidate their understanding of the scientific knowledge, as they have a better grasp of the required language and so can concentrate more on learning the science concepts.