Sheltered Instruction Techniques for Ells: Ways to Adapt Science Inquiry Lessons to Meet the Academic Needs of English Language Learners

By Pray, Lisa; Monhardt, Rebecca | Science and Children, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Sheltered Instruction Techniques for Ells: Ways to Adapt Science Inquiry Lessons to Meet the Academic Needs of English Language Learners


Pray, Lisa, Monhardt, Rebecca, Science and Children


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Hayaka [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] bcex? Ciencia para todos? If you speak Russian or Spanish, these questions may be perfectly clear to you. If not, you may feel the same confusion as the estimated eight million K--12 students who attend school speaking English at varying levels of proficiency (Garcia and Cuellar 2006). You might be pleasantly surprised to find that strategies for implementing inquiry-based science instruction are consistent with methods that assist English Language Learners (ELLs) in developing content area knowledge and language.

Research has shown that an integrated approach to teaching science and language skills allows ELLs to learn English through the context of science instruction while actively being engaged in meaningful activities and opportunities to use English cooperatively to address scientific problems (Echevarria, Vogt, and Short 2007; Gonzalez, Yawkey, and Minaya-Rowe 2006; Ovando, Combs, and Collier 2006). So, while the strategies we suggest here are critical to instruction of ELLs, they may also aid native speakers of English in understanding the sometimes complex language of science.

Science for All, But How?

The pedagogical overlap between inquiry-based science and appropriate instruction of the ELLs can be described using one phrase--making meaning. In both the science and language contexts, we look for ways for students to find meaning: meaningful communication, meaningful questions, meaningful interaction with the materials, and meaningful ways to express understanding.

Our suggestions to adapt instruction for ELLs are based on the concept of sheltered instruction, a model of language-support methods for instruction for ELLs derived primarily through the Sheltered Instruction Observational Protocol (SIOP) developed by Jana Echevarria, Mary Ellen Vogt, and Deborah Short (2007). While the SIOP model can address various levels of English language proficiency, students at the highest level of proficiency will understand the objectives better than those at the earliest stages of English acquisition. In planning a lesson on magnets that builds inquiry skills, we suggest doing the following:

* First, determine what skills and concepts students are to learn in science. Then, determine what language activities will be used to help ELL students achieve the specified content objectives.

* Next, think about ways to incorporate students' background knowledge and experiences into the lesson.

* Then, define which teaching/learning experiences will be part of the lesson. In what ways can you effectively and authentically develop the specific vocabulary necessary for understanding? How will you group students to provide for rich interaction that will help ELL students develop their oral language and social language skills? Which instructional strategies will you use to assist student understanding?

* Finally, determine how you will assess your students as they accomplish the content objectives.

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Each of these aspects of lesson development will be discussed in detail below and are outlined in Figure 1.

Step 1: Determining Skills and Concepts

First, define what the students are to learn, both from the standpoint of science content and also how they will develop their English language skills. This is done by first writing content objectives, which describe the scientific skills and concepts the students will develop and how they will demonstrate their knowledge/skills.

When including English language learners in the lesson, it is important to develop language activities that describe how students will meaningfully read, write, speak, and listen to accomplish the content objectives. Thinking through the ways students will use English in the initial stages of the planning process will help teachers become more thoughtful in ways that ELLs participate in an inquiry lesson. …

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