Teaching 1P ESL Science

Original Post from A Journey: Student to Teacher & What Lies Beneath

This semester I am teaching a Grade 9 Applied Science class that is designated for ESL students. This means that I have students in ESL levels A to E in the class that also have a varying Science level. It poses some interesting challenges.

Before the semester began I sought advice from colleagues who had taught an ESL subject class (and regular ESL classes) in the past. Here are some of the things I was told that seemed helpful:
– routine
– start with lots of evaluation of speaking, writing, reading and listening (without the science)
– speak slowly
– use graphic organizers
– use glossaries/word walls

I have used most of it but it has not been an easy adjustment. I have, luckily, taught 1P Science before so the curriculum is not something I have to grapple with. The adjustment for me has been more about determining what parts of the curriculum can be (for lack of a better word) ignored and how to adjust things well for students with limited English.

I have our 1P textbooks in a cupboard in my classroom so that the students who finish work more quickly than others can do added reading/questions to advance their English vocabulary and science understanding. This has helped me manage the classroom a little better as students are less likely to get up to socialize while I am still trying to help the weaker students.

My seating plan has the newest English speakers sitting with someone else who speaks the same first language to allow them to help with translation when necessary. It also sits a group of 4 students together with varying first languages where possible to encourage English speaking in class. These 4 students also have varying science understanding to encourage them to help/seek help from others.

We are having quizzes often to encourage students to review their glossary and science concepts on a regular basis. Generally speaking each segment that I am teaching them involves
1) Adding words to their glossary and coming up with examples
2) Teaching the concept
3) Practicing
4) Sometimes a video
5) Handing in some practice that is marked and returned
6) Quizzing – usually involves some fill in the blanks with a word bank

The part of the routine that I haven’t used yet is having an agenda on the board for that days work. But I have never been good at that, in any of my classes. In fact I am not even good at updating the date on the board!

In any event it has been and will continue to be a learning experience.
On that note, I am going to adjust my seating plans and have a relaxing evening.

Any advice, comments, questions, concerns are appreciated!

P.S. Teaching the lab process to them with the correct vocabulary is a challenge and a half!

About Heather Lye

Physics and Science teacher. Passionate about our education system, learning technology and inquiry-based, student-centred teaching that misses teaching math.


  1. John Myers /

    agendas in the form of clear learning targets are very important
    student need to know
    – where they are going
    – when they know they have arrived (assessment)
    – ideas on how to get there (teaching)

    we do better when we know the rules of the game of learning

    you also might want to use some reading to learn and writing to learn approaches once students have reached a literacy level that will allow them to enjoy the science

    Good seating plan stuff here.

    • Heather Lye /

      Thank you for the feedback. I have never been good at remembering to set those things out clearly every class. We do have forms of routine. They know that each section of learning will start with glossary terms, then a lesson, some practice, sometimes a video, a practice assessment (sometimes one that goes with the video or another form of practice), get feedback returned, have a quiz.

      I find it particularly difficult to give them an agenda each class because I never know how much we will get through on a given day. And I am particularly challenged at keeping the more intellectual students engaged while giving the weaker students time to complete work (even copy definitions!).

      The students who finish work more quickly I provide them with the applied textbook and a section to read and answer questions from as extra work to improve their reading skills and science vocab.

  2. John Myers /

    Routines count for students since they get predictability through structure. They count for both students and teachers as they allow classes to more easily divert: to remediate, accelerate, or take advantage of a “teachable moment”. Pacing of lessons comes with experience. As for dealing with varying rates of completion, applying principles to real life contexts is another way to add to the learning of those who finish early in addition to what you have noted. You want to find out, did they finish quickly because they can do the work easily or were they being sloppy?

    What happens if I have 10 minutes of work with 5 minutes left in a class?
    If you rush they will not learn it so synthesize and summarize (or get them to) and finish the next class.

    • Heather Lye /

      If only each of those things in the routine didn’t take the class half an hour. I check for sloppy work by checking their work for accuracy before they are permitted to move on. Some of the students in my class should really be in a essentials/locally developed level of science. It creates a great challenge as they (one especially) could monopolize all of my time. This is what makes it especially difficult to enhance the learning for the “better” students, but most of them that get the time to do the extra reading seem to enjoy trying it.

      I never rush work with these guys. When we have a few minutes left in class and can’t start the next part they usually ask to play “would you rather” where I give them a question such as “would you rather listen to music or watch tv” and they go to opposite sides of the room depending on what they would rather do and then have to discuss with each other the reason they picked it. A way to practice their English speaking skills.

      In any event, thanks for the discussion about it. I know that I will continue to learn from these guys and to adjust through the process.

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