• Anita Demitroff

Speak Up in CLIL Science

Content-laden subjects like Science often leave little room for extra practice to ensure children can speak about what they are learning. Here are seven ideas to give life to textbook material.

1. Voice and gesture

With exaggerated gestures and sing-songy voices, we can make essential phrases from Academic English more memorable.

For instance, when asking learners to predict if they think an object will float or sink, rather than allowing pupils to answer yes or no, we can train them in providing a longer answer. Our hand goes up with our voices: “I think so!” or a frown and a downward flourish gets them to say the opposite, “I don't think so”.

A movement of the hand forward will get them to add “because…” and provide an explanation, which will become more fluent over time. The aim is to get the learner to think independently, so if it's a question of having them answer at all or insisting on only providing an explanation in English, give your learners an opportunity to say something and then we can re-cast in English.

What's more, over the years, with just the physical cue, like a wave of the hand, learners will be reminded of a certain gesture or theatrical flourish. Placing a hand on our forehead precedes “I'm sorry but… I disagree” structures that help learners debate and interact throughout the educational process.

2. Chants

At You First, we start our experiments chant with four questions:

1. What, what, what do you need?

2. How, how, how do you do it?

3. What, what, what will happen?

4. Why, why, why does it happen?

These four questions get recycled. Question1can be tweaked for Arts and Crafts, “What, what, what can we use?”, while Question 3 can also encourage prediction in a story-telling session.

Several verbs and adverbs are used repeatedly during experiments. This language also gets locked in with physicality and or musicality. “Mix, mix, mix, mix the liquid!” is best accompanied by a disco vibe. If done slowly and carefully. learners react instinctively to voice and hand cues.

This routine has been expanded to a range of ditties and rhymes. To the rhythm of 1-2-3. 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4-5, we ask “Are we right, are we right, are we right or wrong,” before revealing if our predictions are correct. The same rhyme goes well with a STEAM challenge: “Will it work, will it work, will it work or not?” as we test what we have designed.

3. Total Physical Response

From there, we can recycle an experiment’s structure by having one pupil wear the lab coat and play the role of the robot, while his or her classmates give them instructions in a Total Physical Response (TPR or listen and do) activity. Alternatively, put pictures of the stages up and have children go around from stage to stage repeating the instructions and miming the actions in a circuit.

4. Cognate ditties

Language that is similar or identical in written form between two languages may have very different pronunciation. Children often don't recognise the spoken form. In the previous week's blog, listening techniques, like word chains, were presented. We may also want to make tricky pronunciation more palpable with ditties. For instance, we smack our hands against our chest, imitating the sound “Thud-thud, thud-thud” before going on to say “Thud-thud, thud-thud, our hearts move our blood!” Again, a gimmicky gesture or a silly picture helps to make it memorable.

5. Odd-one-out activities

Some activities are as old as the hills; making them work is often about structuring the language work so that maximum participation is ensured and learners know what is expected of them. One such classic is the odd-one-out activity.

The teacher reads out four words or terms slowly and the children have to indicate with their fingers which one is different from the others. Learners are given thinking time and a model to develop their explanation: “One is ... but the others are…” Another tactic is to let learners consult with each other so that eventually everyone is capable of explaining.

6. Drama

In a previous blog, the game popcorn or tableaux were mentioned as a way of dramatising concepts, like the water cycle or photosynthesis, with a group of learners in a larger space. When space is at a premium or we can't work in groups due to a lack of control, we can get pupils to make cards and manipulate them on their tables.

For example, as we describe the process of the digestive system, we can move the cards with its elements: teeth, oesophagus, stomach and so on. Our teeth crush our food: children make a crushing action with the teeth card. Later we can add more cards to match these elements with objects to make analogies. The oesophagus is like a tube of toothpaste because it is a muscle that squeezes our food down. The stomach is like a balloon because it expands.

When it is time to provide a complete explanation of a system, we can transfer the cards onto a visual learning aid in the form of an A3 sheet, with general functions on the top and elements in order below, plus the objects that help create analogies and make learning more palpable.

7. Presentations

During the Primary stage, we have to make sure that learners develop their oral presentation skills, so that, by nine years old, say, children can talk about the characteristics of an animal.

Alternatively, they can play roles and interview each other with a “mike” (a wooden spoon) on TV (a box with a cut-out screen?), for example, as a nature reporter and a cell. By the end of Primary, learners should be able to use PowerPoint effectively, add humour and encourage audience participation.

Our colleague, Anabel Reis, recommends using Flipchart to practise oral skills, so watch this space for ideas on exploiting this and other apps in a CLIL context.

With these activities, we can help learners think and speak, thus making content their own and becoming better readers and writers.

We'd love to hear if you have your own ways of making them talk.

By Ana Demitroff

Bio: Ana has been in the classroom longer than she cares to admit, but she still gets a kick from the experience and continues to learn from her colleagues and students at the You First Language Centre.