Teaching ESLs in subject areas outside of English class can be challenging. You may find that students are more focused on getting the hang of the language than investigating scientific principles. Or they’re less engaged because the concepts seem far removed and the vocabulary obscure. Overcoming the language barrier is an important step for ESL students to understand concepts and be able to speak at grade level when solving problems and hypothesizing with their classmates. In order to be successful, STEM teachers should be armed with lots of creative ways to make the course information appealing and approachable.

The most important component of fostering ESL success in a math or science class is to do your schema building homework. Establishing background knowledge for new unit vocabulary is vital and provides a foundation for students as they learn the words, then are later able to apply them to specific concepts.

Strive to establish reference points for students by assigning basic readings related to the new unit, incorporating labeling diagrams and charts that students can refer to later, and by providing plenty of online resources that present the information in a new format. Finding resources that illustrate concepts through video, presentation, interactive displays, etc. will convey the information in a new way, ensuring that all types of learners are able to digest the content. By building strong schema, you are building confidence in your ESLs.

Teachers using Thesys’ ELLoquence curriculum have submitted some tried-and-true teaching strategies from their classrooms:

Presentations – Giving students a presentation topic causes them to focus on vocabulary, search for information (background, application, and summary) regarding the topic, organize the content, and give an oral presentation to the class. At the end of school year, they’ll see the improvement in their speaking and presenting skills.

Building Projects – Allow students to learn and work with their hands to build a project related to the unite being taught. This naturally encourages communication as students must work together to successfully build a model or complete an experiment.

Scavenger Hunts – To build schema and help students learn new vocabulary, go through the unit material beforehand and create questions with fill-in-the-blanks, pictures, dates, people, etc. Place the students into small groups and have them search the textbooks, encyclopedias, and internet for the clues.

Jeopardy Game – As method of review and test preparation, create a version of Jeopardy for the students to play. This not only helps the students study, but increases quick recall and provides the teacher with an instant assessment of information retention.

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