Bringing STEM to the ESL/ELL Classroom

A recent study from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine found that English language learners lack access to STEM instruction. This defiicit oftem stems from underfunded schools and underprepared educators placed within those schools. For many English language learners, the skills they are missing out on are the key skills they will need when it comes to getting a job in the future. Although you may not be able to bring high-tech computers and equipment into your classroom, you can incorporate STEM concepts, vocabulary, and activities into your ESL/ELL classroom to help reduce the deficit your students face.

Study STEM Vocabulary

You already teach a lot of topic-specific vocabulary within your classroom. Students learn words related to travel, shopping, food, etc. Why not throw in STEM vocabulary as well? Introduce a few words every week related to different areas of science or technology and give students opportunities to use those words during speaking and writing activities. Instead of random words, you may choose to focus on words with the same root words, prefixes, or suffixes. For example, maybe you'll spend a week on words that end with -logy or a week on words that start with bio- so students can start to see how words are related. The benefit of teaching scientific words? Depending on your students' native language, they may find that a lot of STEM words share similar roots in the native langauge, making them easier to learn.

Focus on Problem Solving

Regularly give your students problematic scenarios to solve. These are scenarios related to what you're studying that make students delve a little deeper and talk amongst themselves to solve a problem. Typically a problematic scenario includes a paragraph or two of information followed by a few key questions and tasks to complete. Novelinks offers many free problematic situations to accompany its units on popular novels, but students may enjoy them even if they haven't read the novel. Additionally, you can look for short whodunits or think-a-minutes to get students thinking outside the box and using critical thinking and deductive reasoning skills.

Complete STEM Activities

Can you build a bridge that will hold a one pound weight using only popsicle sticks? Can you create a paper airplane that will fly farther than any other airplane in the classroom? Simple STEM projects like these are great for the ESL classroom. They allow students to think outside of the box and use logic and creative thinking skills. They also provide the opportunity to do some procedural writing or speaking. As students complete a project, have them write down or say the steps that they are following. This will help build their English skills at the same time. Consider short STEM activities so you don't take a lot of time away from the rest of your curriculum.

Play STEM Games

Games are a great way to get students talking in the classroom. They also give students practice in reading and following directions. Focus on games that reinforce STEM concepts or help improve their deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. Some great games to add to your classroom include:

  • Codenames (builds vocabulary skills as well)
  • Qwirkle
  • Robot Turtles (for younger learners)
  • Mastermind
  • Mexican Train Dominoes

Escape rooms also serve as fun games with a problem-solving or STEM-based focus.

Incorporate Technology

Try to incorporate tehnology into your classroom. You may not have a lot of resources, but maybe you can play an interactive game together by projecting it on a screen or let students take turns interacting with an app on your phone. You don't want to just throw in technology for the sake of throwing in technology, but if you can find websites, games, apps, and programs that give students a chance to interact with different interfaces and systems, you can help improve their ability to adapt to new techology as they encounter it.

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