Academic journal article Science and Children

Talk Strategies: How to Promote Oral Language Development through Science

Academic journal article Science and Children

Talk Strategies: How to Promote Oral Language Development through Science

Article excerpt

If you have ever tried to learn a language, you might recall how difficult it was to get the new words to flow. After some exposure to a language, we can understand a great deal, but producing language seems like a daunting task. Teachers can remember these difficulties when thinking of the English learners in their own classrooms.

In science, our English learners (ELs) have the additional challenge of mastering a new language while navigating the content. In our ever-changing and diverse classrooms, it is important for teachers to remember that every science lesson provides an opportunity for language development for first- and second-language learners.

For many years, we--former teachers and current professional development providers--tried to write science lessons to include language learning opportunities. We wrote lessons in the 5E format, included hands-on experiences, and used specific language learning strategies such as scaffolding and sentence frames to support our ELs; still, there was an area we were missing. We have recently come to realize that it is important to pay more overt attention to students' oral language production because it is directly associated with early literacy skills (August and Shanahan 2006; Snow 1999).


Many teachers--ourselves included--call on students one at a time. This means that students are fortunate to get one opportunity to speak and receive feedback during a typical lesson. From a language acquisition perspective, we now see that this is not enough to promote the type of learning students need to develop oral language skills.

This article will describe how we incorporate academic talk strategies into science lessons in a nonintrusive and meaningful manner.

These talk strategies are adapted from the Avenues (2007) curriculum for ELs, which gives examples of cooperative learning strategies for students of varying language proficiencies in content-rich activities. Each strategy supports concept development while providing opportunities for relevant academic talk. With student goals of self-expression, interaction skills, proper use of language structures, and vocabulary development, we find that these strategies naturally integrate with 5E learning cycle lessons. Although our focus is on ELs, these strategies could be used for any population of elementary language learners. Because these strategies place students in dyads or trios, it is easy for teachers to check for understanding, assess progress, and appropriately adjust their level of instructional speech--something that might be difficult in a whole-class lesson. Figure 1, page 64, shows the various strategies discussed in this article.

Preparing Students

Before the teacher can implement the talk strategies suggested in this content lesson, students need opportunities to practice the strategies so that they understand their roles and the purposes in each one. Teachers and students can model and rehearse the strategy at any time before the lesson or right within the lesson as they are about to begin. Because these strategies can transfer to sharing times, daily routines, or other content areas, teachers can demonstrate and students can practice them whenever and wherever the teacher sees a talking opportunity. The more students rehearse these strategies, the better prepared they will be to practice new words and structures in the science lesson.

Modifying the Lesson

To guide the reader through our process of turning a typical science lesson into one that focuses more on academic student talk, we use the example of a second-grade lesson on sound.

In this 5E learning cycle lesson, students visit stations where they investigate vibrations with items such as tuning forks.

Student talk allows learners to practice, negotiate in, and learn about the language, so we add more opportunities for student talk to our science lesson to make this a more effective science and language lesson. …

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