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Strategies for Teaching ELL Science

Instructor: Jacob Compton

Jacob has taught ESL in three Asian countries and has a master's degree in education.

In this lesson, you will learn some tips and advice for teaching science to ELL learners, including those related to vocabulary, experiments, videos and reading assignments that'll help you make sure that your students know what you are talking about!

ELL Science

When teaching science to English Language Learners (ELL), try not to approach the class as two different subjects. Instead, try and think of yourself as teaching one subject, science. You just have to spend a little more time explaining the terms and definitions. Try and use different methods when going over the material with your students - not just reading activities - but also experiments and maybe visual aids as well. Remember, while your students may be new to English, they may not be new to science.

Classroom Strategies

In an ELL science class, try and keep your lessons as similar as possible to one another in format, which can help to establish a classroom routine. You can even hand out a lesson format on the first day of class; send it home with younger learners, who may have someone at home who can go over it with them. The lesson format might include a warm up, a review of the previous lesson, new vocabulary and material, and an experiment. Summarize the lesson for your students while handing out homework.

Warm ups, which can help to engage your students in the lesson, might include a vocabulary quiz based on the last lesson, a game, or even a discussion about a news-related science topic. During the review, ask your students questions about what your class went over in the last lesson.


When introducing new vocabulary words to ELL students, use pictures to give them an idea of what the words in the lesson mean. For example, when teaching a lesson about mitochondria, show your students a picture of these organelles and a power plant. Then explain to your students that the work of mitochondria in a cell and the work of equipment in a power plant are very similar in that both are involved in producing energy. Support new vocabulary words with graphic organizers, such as flow charts, story maps, Venn diagrams, and word walls. With younger ELL students, have them make a picture dictionary. Additionally, games, like Pictionary or Bingo, can help to reinforce new vocabulary.


When giving directions for experiments in an ELL science classes, do the experiment yourself first while the class watches. Speak slowly, and use precise language. For example, you might describe your actions as follows: 'I am now pouring or adding chemical A to Compound B; this will combine the two. Now, let's all count to thirty while I stir or mix them together. See how it's caught on fire!'

Sometimes, little explanations, such as the ones we just mentioned, can help to ensure that your students know what you are talking about. While your students might not understand what 'pour' and 'stir' mean out of context, they will be able to see what the words mean as you're performing the actions. For example, having everyone count to 30 while the chemical reaction was occurring helped to reinforce the instructions.

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