Teaching Science through experiments
In this term’s CLIL Corner, Jane Kirsch shares the plan she and fellow teacher Roser Nebot devised for their practical Science course for 2nd ESO students at IES Manuel Blancafort in La Garriga, Barcelona.
One of the biggest challenges facing Science teachers in Secondary schools is how to teach the relatively complex subjects of Physics and Chemistry (difficult enough in the students’ first language) to students with elementary or pre-intermediate levels of English.
With this in mind Roser Nebot and I developed a practical Science course for our 2nd ESO students, which takes the emphasis away from teacher-led explanations and involves students in their own learning. In these classes language remains an important tool in the transmission of scientific knowledge. However it is used in conjunction with other, more visual, ways of conveying knowledge.
In this article we suggest five ways to help students learn scientific language and concepts in English.
1. Use realia and drawings to pre-teach the vocabulary for experiments
Before starting a practical activity with students it is a good idea to elicit the materials they need by asking them to point them out or hold them up. Concept-check questions can also be asked to double-check understanding, eg ‘Where we do we keep cold water?’ ‘In the fridge.’ It is also useful to have a list of materials in front of students on a worksheet and to encourage them to draw pictures of the materials to help them remember.
2. Ask students to draw what they see during experiments before getting them to put what they are observing into words
In this experiment students put some drops of colouring into a beaker of cold water and a beaker of hot water.
4. Give students time to think of questions to ask in a plenary session at the end of a class
The teaching team at IES Manuel Blancafort, where these lessons took place, noticed that students in CLIL Science lessons tend to ask fewer questions (whether in English or in their mother tongue) than students in an L1 Science class. As a result we decided to create an activity where students work in groups and write the questions they want to ask at the end of an experiment. The advantage of creating these questions together is that the pressure to construct grammatically correct sentences on the spot is reduced. It also means that students become more comfortable asking questions about science in class and need less prompting in future lessons.
5. Use information gap activities to encourage students to speak to each other in English
Students almost always use their native language to communicate with each other in class. However, we can design activities to get them speaking to each other in English. One way to do this is with an information gap activity. This task (illustrated below) requires students to work in groups to write down the most important characteristics of convection, conduction or radiation based on information they find on the Internet. They then regroup and share their knowledge.
Jane Kirsch is a teacher and teacher trainer. She is currently studying for a PhD in Education, specialising in CLIL.
Here are links to the two websites cited in the above worksheet with information about heat transfer: