The wow! factor: science in the English classroom (7 simple, but very effective, tips)
Updated: Apr 20, 2021
Language teachers know that not everyone is linguistically inclined, but nearly every pupil gets excited about an experiment or STEAM challenge involving science, technology, engineering,art and maths.
By bringing simple hands-on experiences into your Pre- and Primary English class, you can
engage all kinds of learners, as well as exploit communicative and deep learning opportunities that arise from their science curriculum.
And once you catch the attention of that reluctant English learner, you will be able to move forward with that child.
Here are my seven tips.
1. Encourage interaction when you do an experiment in front of your class.
You may not have a lot of resources or time and current safety restrictions make it difficult to
work in groups. However, there are ways around this. Always get young learners reciting the
experiment chant: What, what, what do you need? How, how, how do you do it? What, what,
what will happen? And, when they are older than five or six, Why, why, why does it happen?
You can also transform yourself into the experiment robot by encouraging your pupils to give
you the right instructions in a reverse Total Physical Response activity: i.e., they tell you what
to do. Have little ditties for certain actions that are often repeated in experiments: mix, mix,
mix, mix the liquid (like a 1970´s disco chorus). Ask them how you do something: slowly or
quickly, carefully or energetically?
Children as young as three can make predictions. Give them simple options and use a lot of
gestures to indicate, for instance, sink or float? Children as young as five can start to
understand the why of certain phenomena, but they need a little bit of help to express it in
words. Act it out with gestures and key vocabulary before you explain everything.
2. Use our bodies for brain breaks that foster scientific awareness.
Test flexibility by touching our toes and then the floor. Walk our hands around our body on
the floor. Drop and catch a ruler to test reaction time. Test balance by holding your leg from
behind your body and bending forward on one foot.
What makes us special? Is our tongue flexible? Can we touch our nose with the tip of it? Can
we separate our pinky from your other fingers? If we can, it is because of our genes. Can
others in our family do this?
Help pupils discover where our stomach is (just below the point where the rib cage meets in
the middle) or where our small intestine lies (behind our navels or “belly buttons”). “Pull out”
our small intestines and walk the length of the classroom with it; this body part can be up to
seven meters long. Have fun with English bones: where is our shoulder blade (like the blade of
a skate), tailbone, funny bone and knee cap? Where is the wishbone on a roast chicken?
3. Use mime or even hand gestures to represent a process.
An example is the rain cycle or how a simple circuit works. Health concerns may stop us from
doing this in groups to form a tableau, but we can still try to express these ideas with
movement and things within our reach.
4. Following on from point 3, bring in common objects to make analogies.
Why is a tube of toothpaste and not the cardboard tube inside kitchen roll like our oesophagus?
That part of our body is really a muscle squeezing our food down to our stomachs. Food doesn’t just fall down a tube. How can I represent the other parts of the digestive system: a potato masher for our teeth, a spray bottle for our saliva-producing mouth and a juice carton with a balloon for our stomach. The key language here is the sentence X is like (as in similar to) Y because ... We need to justify this comparison and this takes time. Allow some answers in the first languages but re-cast them in English. The thought process is as important as the product! And, by using analogy and real objects, we can clarify concepts.
5. Do fun communicative activities that spill over from the science class.
For example, find out about the “freaks” of the animal world: armadillos, platypuses and
penguins. Hold a planet election in which pupils persuade their classmates that their planet is
the best one.
Or make hypotheses about the common characteristics of coins and then test
these by examining the change in our pockets.
Or simply practise making hypotheses to drill structures by thinking of a sentence that is true for everyone: I think everyone likes pizza.
How do you test this hypothesis? By asking the right question, to everyone!
6. Do awareness activities that just take seconds.
Indeed, there is a book called “Science in Seconds for Kids”, whilst Exploratorium offers
For example, reflect on why an egg isn’t shaped like a ball. (To see how to make the most of
this activity, check out the free lesson plan that accompanies this blog post!) Find out why it is
difficult to put the cap back onto a pen when you have one eye closed. What will happen if you
splash water on a picture made with nonpermanent felt-tip on kitchen paper?
Of course, it’s not just about doing attention-getting tricks. The language teacher has to think about how to get the children thinking, expressing themselves, asking questions and giving simple explanations. The technical language will come later and is often close to what it is in the first language. Meanwhile, you are building cognitive and communication skills!
7. On days when you have more time, hold STEAM challenges.
How can we get this slinky to move when there are no stairs in the classroom? Perhaps we can
make a circuit with boxes and books in the classroom. Use a YouTube video to show learners
that this toy normally “walks” down the stairs if you can’t show how one works in situ.
How can I stack books to make a cantilever structure? Or how can I fold paper so that it can
hold a stack of books? Hint: tape is permitted. Square structures are strong, but cylinders and
bridges folded like fans are the strongest.
For younger learners, have construction challenges with dishwasher sanitised recycled materials, like food containers and boxes. Then use a rubric to test the results. Is your tower stable/tall/straight? Can Teddy sit on this bridge?
Enjoy your voyage of discovery! To teach is to learn!
DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE LESSON PLAN FOR THIS BLOG AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS
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.