Teaching science to young children often includes a high level of ‘teacher talking time.’ Learners develop good comprehension skills, but production is often out of phase. Here are a few tips to ensure that children get plenty of opportunity to use all the language they are learning in the science classroom.
1 Play Tell me something about …
One way to ensure there is always a section of the lesson which allows the children some free expression is to include the activity: Tell me something about … This activity is useful to elicit what children already know about a topic at the start of a unit or as a warmer to review concepts they have learned about in the previous session. Prompt the children with questions, scaffold their ideas and model answers if they get stuck. If you have enough time, you can write the sentences down and read them collectively at the end of the activity. Show on the board are 21 things we can say about a pineapple.
2 Encourage the children to use sentences all the time
Along with science concepts, we should aim to give children practice in using science vocabulary and language. On asking closed questions, encourage children right from the start to use sentences to answer. Choose a structure that the children can use to express themselves and model it. Write it on the board where it will serve as a reminder to use a sentence. For example:
- Teacher: Is a frog a reptile or an amphibian?
- Child: An amphibian.
- Teacher: (models answer) A frog is an amphibian.
- Encourage child to repeat after you: A frog is an amphibian.
If you wish, encourage the whole class to repeat the model. Continue asking questions to other children and if they answer in one word, remind them to use sentences by either pointing to the model on the board, saying In a sentence or by making an expanding motion with your hands or modelling the sentence again.
3 Play games to review science concepts
Traditional games such as Noughts and Crosses and Odd-One-Out provide a fun framework for a number of revision activities. For example, play Odd-One-Out to review the characteristics of animals. Stick up either picture or word flashcards of, for example, toad, frog, salamander and snake in a row on the board. Ask Which is the odd one out? (The snake, because it is a reptile). Repeat with different sets of flashcards or write the words on the board, eg crocodile, snake, frog, turtle (The frog, because it is an amphibian) or butterfly, spider, ladybird, bee (The spider, because it is not an insect), etc.
Try out the following activity with your classes to review and compare places / neighbourhoods. Download Worksheet 1 and photocopy one per pupil. Write the items from the first group on the board and tell the children: Three items form a group. Which is the odd one out? Ask children to justify their answers by asking: Why? Encourage them to answer, eg sofa, because it is not a room in the house.
Digital posters can be used to to introduce a topic and serve as a starting point for discussion, checking any concepts and vocabulary the children may already know. Project the poster and ask the children, What can you see? Encourage them to name any known items using the structures I can see or There is / are …
PowerPoint presentations provide a window on the outside world, allowing children to gain a broader perspective of topics. PowerPoint presentations provide a valuable opportunity for oral participation. Allowing the children to comment on and discuss each slide before reading the text collectively gives another opportunity for the children to express themselves.
6 KWL charts
Experiments and investigations present an ideal opportunity to include hands-on science in the classroom. Using K-W-L Charts (What I Know – What I Want to Know – What I have Learned) can help to provide a structure for oral production during the experiment. On the board, or using digital projection, three columns should be drawn and labelled, as shown below.
Elicit from the children information they already know about the topic and fill in the K column. This helps structure their background knowledge. In the early Primary stages, it is more helpful to guide the children’s learning by providing them with questions for the W column. Noting the aim of each experiment in this way helps set the purpose of the investigation and focuses attention on key aims. After the investigation, discuss the findings and outcome of the investigation, writing the results in the L column.
A bag of pebbles, colourful counters or shells is a useful investment for the classroom. Divide the pebbles into small pots and place a pot on each group of tables. As children participate orally, they may take a pebble and place it on a designated spot on their table. As you conduct the activity, the stones provide a visual record, showing you who has participated enabling you to encourage children who do not yet have a pebble. Children count the pebbles at the end of the activity. Praise those who have more pebbles and encourage those who have fewer or no pebbles.
Children are stimulated and motivated by seeing their work displayed. Displays give support to oral and written work and act as a useful revision aid. Here is an idea for an interactive mural about the Sun.
Make a large Sun for the centre of the mural and have the children crinkle up yellow, red and orange tissue paper to cover it. Ask the children to draw pictures of the Sun and stick them around the edges. Print out some facts about the Sun with multiple choice answers, eg The Sun is big/small, The Sun is hot/cold, The Sun is near/far away and The Sun gives us heat and light/snow and rain. Stick strips of card over the answers with the words ‘yes’ (over the correct answer) and ‘no’ (over the incorrect answer) on the underside of the card. Add these to the display. Children can read the mural and answer the questions, checking if they are right each time.
9 Activity corner
An activity corner that changes per topic with equipment for the children to continue their investigations could be provided, eg a collection of toys for children to continue their investigation of forces by deciding which require a push and which require a pull to move, materials with different properties for children to sort and classify, or you can have a senses corner and add something new for each sense after every lesson. Children can use this area to begin to explore their senses for themselves.
10 Free writing
To give children practice in written production and time to consolidate their ideas about a topic, give fast finishers some paper and encourage them to write about the concepts they have learnt during the lesson or unit. Ask the children to illustrate and decorate their work. Collect all the children’s work together and spiral-bind it. Leave it in the book corner where the children can read it.