Science Lesson Plans to Teach EL Students Vocabulary

The University of California recently completed a study that examined the achievement of students in the U.S. educational system who have English as a second language. These English-learning (EL) children number more than one in three students in the primary grades. The majority of these students in California are in English-only classrooms where instruction is given by teachers who do not speak the first language of their students. When trying to develop science lesson plans, teachers need to be able to effectively communicate with all students.

Surprisingly, students who received intentional vocabulary instruction in science actually learned more of the target vocabulary than those who were in a controlled class. Not only were these children better able to grasp the target vocabulary, they also outperformed those in the control class in terms of being able to discuss science concepts. At the same time, those who understood more of the vocabulary were able to express their comprehension of the concepts of science more effectively than other students.

In developing science lesson plans, it is important to note that multiple exposure to words in meaningful and relevant contexts plays a significant role of the deep word knowledge development. If students are provided with meaningful and relevant opportunities to use the words they were learning, they are better able to grasp meaning for recall later.

Beyond the rich narrative and expository texts provided by the teacher, children also had access to rich explanations of the words and opportunities to use them in supportive and structured formats. Interaction was possible through structured-talk activities and teacher support. Students were also able to interact with real insects to explore their features and behavior while sharing their observations.