Ten MORE Tips for Teaching ELL Science

Ten more tips for teaching ELL science

Students come into our classroom every day with more and challenges.  We as teachers want to do all we can to help ALL of our students succeed, no matter where they came from and what language they speak at home.  Teaching science to ELL students is a challenge because as ELL students are learning English, they also need to learn the language of science.  I actually have found a lot of great tips from Spanish teachers at my school, because they are used to teaching new vocabulary and they have a lot of great techniques they use to get students talking, writing, and speaking in a new language!


Here, you’ll read about 10 strategies or tips that I use to help all of my students and especially ELL students.  (This is a sequel to a blog post that was co-written by my friend Becca at Science Lessons that Rock. You can see the first 10 tips here!)


Lab Safety instructions for ELL Science students


Safety is so important.  When I get a new student in my class, they MUST pass my lab safety quiz and I use these lab safety notes to go over everything with them, as well as a classroom tour to demonstrate the eyewash, the shower, and the fire extinguisher.  This is absolutely essential, that students understand how to be safe in lab.  I like to use lab safety picture notes and when I can, I try to put pictures in their lab procedures too!


Label important objects in the room with words


In elementary school classrooms, a lot of teachers do this.  They label everything with words (and sometimes pictures!) to help students learn new words all the time.  In the science classroom, it would look a little different, but the concept is the same.  This helps students see the science words as they go about their day and it can help them!


Bring in hands-on learning experiences often


Bring in every day phenomenon that can help students remember and connect with the content.  I’ve brought in C. elegans (not exactly everyday but I got some from a university lab), grasshoppers, spiders, pine cones, minnows from the pond near the school, different types of rocks, or anything I could find that I could relate to what we were doing that week.


Provide Structure and Predictability


This may sound like a given, but I do like to have pretty much the same structure every day in class and I like to provide a certain predictability.  Students all know that I give a quiz or test on every Friday.  Students know that I structure each normal class period like this (lab days are always different):


First 3-5 minutes: Students grade their own homework (I use this biology homework or this chemistry homework), then I have some sort of “hook”.


Next 15-25 minutes: I lead them through a combination of class discussion/direct instruction.  When I do direct instruction, I actually don’t talk that much.  I ask a TON of carefully planned questions.  I get students to help me and the rest of the class go through a topic logically.  I never stand up there and just talk in front of a powerpoint <gasp!!>  I really do think it helps students to interact with me and interact with their peers throughout direct instruction.


Next 15-25 minutes: Some re-enforcing activity, some individual activities, some group activities.


Last 5 minutes: An exit ticket or a short activity to sum up what we learned that day, to connect everything together.


Here is another way I help my students really have structure throughout each unit: I print out unit note packets in the beginning of each unit for each student.  I think this helps students immensely.  They can know what is coming up.  They can know if they missed a day of notes (I never have students who ask me, “So did we do anything yesterday when I was gone?” because they can clearly see from their neighbor’s note packet what they missed.)  And it provides a structure, an outline, and a guide for the whole unit of the material we will be learning together.


Use a document camera when you model note-taking


When you write on a document camera, you’re modeling a ton of things that will help all of your students. When you color or annotate a diagram, you’re helping students to understand your thought process.  When you write down something they said, you’re validating something they said.  And you’re also modeling how to figure out the important details to write down.  You focus them on what is important.


(Here’s an extra bonus: I don’t know about you, but my handwriting on paper is a whole lot better than my handwriting on the whiteboard in front of the room.  And extra extra bonus, you can write down notes, WHILE you’re facing the class, instead of turning your back and we all know how important it is for teachers not to turn their backs sometimes.)


And you’ll be surprised, but you will see that some students feel a lot less anxious about getting every word down or every bit of information down and they’ll open up a little more and be willing to take more risks in their thinking.  I find that knowing what to write down alleviates some anxiety students have about doing well; they no longer have to worry if they don’t have something written down that they will need later to succeed.  I find students are more willing to answer questions in class, put their thoughts out there, and they can spend more time thinking about science instead of worrying about writing down every single thing.  This is another reason the note packet is so essential; when you give students can outline or something to write on, the same exact page you’re writing with the document camera, it is freeing for many students and especially ELL students.


(I use this document camera and I love it.  This is an Amazon affiliate link.  If you purchase after clicking this link, I get a few bucks, which I probably will spend on snacks for my kids or Frixion erasable pens. 🙂 )


Give them picture notes!


I really believe that adding pictures to their science notes is a true-gamechanger in my classroom.  Students can color for fun on their own time but in class I color, circle, annotate important details as we learn.  I ask questions and get students to help me fill in the important details.  You can find my biology notes set here!


Use Fill in the blank and other modifications when necessary


Some ELL students really benefit from having sentence frames or a word bank to help them in their writing. I use fill-in-the-blank notes more often with my ELL students.  When students have fill in the blank notes, they can focus on thinking about the content and don’t have to worry about writing down every word.  ELL students especially need more time to process, as many of them are translating words back and forth in their heads as they listen, write, and speak.


Here are a few ideas for sentence frames you could use often in your science classroom:


Past experiments suggest that _____________________________ might be true.

I think _____(prediction)___ will happen if ___(experiment)__.

This __(piece of data)______ suggests that ______(conclusion)_____.

This __(piece of data)______ supports the ______(conclusion/hypothesis)_____.

This __(piece of data)______ does not support the ______(conclusion/hypothesis)_____.


Use Think Pair Share often

When you ask the class a question, try to use this technique as often as possible.

  1. Give each student time to think.
  2. Ask them to share with a partner
  3. Then ask for raised hands to get the answer to write it down.

(Students who are learning English, along with other students who already know English, need to practice speaking!)  This technique gets all students talking and thinking and ENGAGING with the material. If you call on students with popsickle sticks, this can help ELL students because if they are paired with a native English speaker, it means before you call on the ELL student, they have thought about their answer, heard another answer, shared their answer with the other student, and now may have more confidence to try and speak in front of the class.


Use Vocab Doodle Pages and have students make their own word wall


Get them with the link below (bottom of blog post) and get your students to use their artistic sides, pair them up, and use Vocabulary Doodles and have students make their own word wall! You can use this with any concept or vocabulary word in science.



Use 1:1 Devices if available

If you have access to 1:1 technology, use polling apps or web tools when you ask some questions during class. It can help students practice typing/writing in English and it gives every student a chance to answer, not just the ones you call on!  There are a bunch of these apps and I encourage you to search and test them out and decide what works best for your classroom.  One really neat free tool I learned about recently was Desmos Teacher Activity Builder.  You can set up questions ahead of time and have all student answer (anonymously if you want!) and you could project the results and discuss them together.  It’s really awesome!



What do you use to help your ELL students succeed in your science classroom?  Let me know in the comments!

Ten more tips for teaching ELL science




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