ESL Strategies to Construct Science Learning main content.

Using ESL Strategies to Construct Science Learning

Science teacher Adrienne Lopez
ADRIENNE M. LOPEZ Grade 6-8 ESL Science Teacher I.S. 347Brooklyn, New York

Like the students I teach, I am a native Spanish Speaker. I was born and raised in Southern California and am Mexican American. I teach 6th-8th grade science at I.S. 347 in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Our school has a transitional bilingual program for native Spanish Speakers. I have been teaching this population for eight years in the same school. 

My school supports bilingual instruction that uses the techniques of Margarita Calderon's Expediting Comprehension for English Language Learners (ExC-ELL)and WestEd's QTELL). I teach science content in a 40/60, 50/50 or 60/40 model. This means that I teach my beginner level English Language Learners (ELL's) 40% (2 days a week) in English and 60% in Spanish. The intermediate level ELL's get about half and half, and the advanced level students get at least 60% English ( 3 days per week). 

Thanks to the NOAA Science Literacy for Grade 6 English Language LearnersProject, I used the American Museum of Natural History to teach my students a curriculum unit on Clouds, which is part of a larger unit on weather in the New York City 6th grade scope and sequence. The program truly helped me reach a higher level of excellence by giving me the space and time to reflect on my bilingual teaching practices and the opportunity to catch up on the latest research on ESL instructional strategies related to science.

The cover of a textbook titled "Making Science Accessible to English Learners: A Guidebook for Teachers."

By the time my students got to the Weather and Climate unit, they were already familiar with QTELL strategies for English Language Learners such as think-pair-share, 4-heads-together, modified round-robin and these strategies no longer needed to be explicitly taught to the students. However, since I participated in the NOAA program at AMNH, I have been using strategies that were discussed inMaking Science Accessible to English Learners: A Guidebook for Teachers, by David Carr. Strategies such as modeling supportive writing and presenting, giving scaffolded assessments, pre/post vocabulary self-assessments, as well as "showing" images or other visual cues while speaking have now become staples in my teaching of English Language Learners

By the time my class got to the subunit on Clouds, my students had: 
• learned how to use weather instruments, made various weather observations, measured mass, length and volume with the metric system; and studied and modeled molecules, especially the water molecule. 
• studied heat transfer in order to better understand evaporation and condensation through a combination of hands-on activities (from the FOSS "Weather and Water" science program) and scaffolded readings.


Students reviewed the water cycle and had fun making a cloud in a two-liter soda bottle, using the activity that we learned as teachers at the NOAA professional development at AMNH with Jay Holmes. This activity prompted the highly motivated students to want to read and learn more about clouds. 

Links to Cloud in a Bottle Activity


To engage students on the topic of clouds, I asked about the cloud data they had been collecting for the past two weeks, "Did you notice any patterns during your week's observations? Did it rain during the week you observed clouds? What kinds of clouds were in the sky when it rained? Were there any clouds when it was sunny?" I wrote their descriptive words on the chalkboard as they verbalized them.


The lesson I designed to prepare students for their trip to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) can be found at the top of this page. 

In this lesson, students identified different cloud names and prefixes which helped students categorize different cloud types according to their position in the sky (low, middle, high). I used a Smart Board to teach the lesson because it is interactive and is an easy way for large groups of students to have access to DVD and video clips.


In the NOAA program's professional development workshops at AMNH, teachers had an opportunity to do the Expedition to North America activity with cloud observations in three dioramas in the Hall of North American Mammals that students would be doing. This experience helped us as teachers understand what kind of knowledge and skills students would need to do this same activity when they went to the Museum. 

Back in my school, I collaborated with the Social Studies teacher to review the topic of latitude and longitude so that students would be prepared to locate and mark the geographical location of each diorama and the distribution of the diorama's animals throughout North America on the Expedition Map. [See Norma's sample lesson plan]


In their visit to the Museum, my students had an opportunity to apply the English language skills and knowledge they had gained to read, write, listen and speak both formally (during an assembly) and informally (in the exhibit halls) with the scientists at AMNH. The students met scientists Dr. Jay Holmes and Dr. Adriana Aquino, with whom they observed the clouds in the dioramas and made real-life connections to their learning and personal lives. 

Science Bulletins: Weather and CLimate Events 

(NASA) CERES COOL Project Cloud Charts