Using Academic Language To Explain A Scientific Concept

Learn and practice academic language with science concepts
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About This Strategy

This strategy helps students associate visuals from the processes of a phenomenon and academic vocabulary in order to use academic language to explain a scientific concept.  This strategy can be used as a follow up to check understanding after a lab or a simulation, or during a lab or simulation.   It involves matching academic vocabulary words to a set of visuals from the events of a lab or simulation and explaining the scientific concept.

Implementation Steps

1. Identify science concepts that you want students to explain. 

  • This could be after a simulation or an experiment that had been done before.

2. Create a list of academic vocabulary from this scientific concept. Consult the Better lesson strategy in the BetterLesson Lab called "Selecting Vocabulary Words to Teach" to learn more about this process.

  • To make the list, include scientific academic words that describe the items and processes in the visual.  For example academic vocabulary could include terms like, energy transfer, air parcel, surrounding air, surface water, and evaporation
  • Include arrows to be used between the vocabulary words or to point to the words that they describe..
  • Create visual representations of the different vocabulary words. 
    • Examples of visuals include:  energy transfer from the sun to the surface, energy transfers from the surface to the air, the air parcel rising  transferring energy from the air parcel to the surrounding air, condensation happening as the air parcel cools and a cloud forming.
  • If the pictures are of more than one process, familiarize students with the order or the events.

3. In partners, have students look at the visuals and discuss the academic vocabulary that describe the visuals.

  • Depending on the group of students, teachers might instruct students to start with visuals or start with words. In groups that need additional scaffolding, the teacher should instruct the student how the pictures and arrows should be arranged first.

4. Have students work to use their academic vocabulary and arrows to explain the scientific concept.  

  • One partner has the job of rearranging the vocabulary words and the arrows.  They can place arrows pointing from the pictures to the corresponding words or they can put arrows between the words to show the order of words. They will start with the words that match the  first thing that happens in the sequence, then they will place an arrow after it.  They will repeat  this process until they come to the last event and words that match it. 
  • The other partner decides how to explain the science concept using the academic vocabulary to fully describe the events.  Students can record their explanation on paper before they share, if they need to. 
  • Both partners should discuss the order of the words and which pictures they go with.

5. Then have student partners share their explanations with the class. Consider asking the class what they learned from the presentation to help the class reflect.

EL Modification

This strategy supports EL students because it gives students a chance  to be involved in a structured, evidence-based discussion around scientific concepts while providing an opportunity for them to practice academic and oral language.   The visuals will help EL’s to connect academic vocabulary to processes involved in a scientific concept.  The visuals will help Els’ to explain the concept,  give them a sense of the order of the events, help them to have  a resource to reference during the discussion, and facilitate incorporating academic language into their vocabulary.   

Implementation steps:

  1. Consider including student’s native language  as part of the vocabulary words on notecards/Jamboard slides to build students' literacy in their home language and to help students make connections with the new words. 

  2. Pre Teach the vocabulary by interacting with it through near pod so that the students have a foundational understanding of the words .

  3. Think about recording saying each of the vocabulary words on loom.com, screencastify.com, or voice memo.  

  4. Modify the roles in the original lesson so that each student in the EL group  responsible for moving the vocabulary, deciding how to arrange the words,  and using the words to explain the concept So that each partner has an equal chance to interact with the vocabulary and articulate their understanding of the concept.

  5. Provide a graphic organizer for students to place their visuals and academic words  so that they know where to put them.

Special Education Modification

This strategy supports special education students because it guides them through processing the events behind a scientific concept so that they can participate in an organized, evidence-based discussion around it.  Similar to scientists, students will use evidence from visuals and scientific terms to discuss to explain  what  caused a scientific concept.  Specifically, it helps special education students because it provides them with close-ended questions that help them get a foothold on the processes involved in the scientific concept, while leading them from the beginning event to the ending event.

Implementation steps:

  1. Develop a series of close ended questions that can be used with the assignment that help the student navigate through a sequence of events for the scientific concept.  

    • Bold and embed the vocabulary of this lesson in each question.  Examples include:  Does the sun transfer energy to the air parcel or does the sun transfer energy to the surface and the surface transfers energy to the air parcel.  When the water on the surface receives energy does the water stay a liquid or turn into water vapor, a gas?  Does the water vapor stay on the surface or does it rise into the air as an air parcel?

  2. After the student answers the questions correctly, ask them how they know their answer is correct. Also ask them, to identify the  evidence from the pictures that demonstrate that their answer is correct.

  3. Consider asking students to tell you more about the question than you asked them in order to demonstrate their comprehension.

Academic Student Talk To Explain A Science Concept for Distance Learning

This strategy can be easily adapted for distance learning to help students learn new vocabulary words and make connections to the words for a simulation or lab activity that they have done.

Implementation steps:

  1. Take screenshots of the virtual lab or virtual simulation.

  2. Put them on the Jamboard, with arrows in between them, to show the sequence of events o n the right hand side of the slide, 

  3. Put the academic vocabulary words that apply to the simulation or the lab in text boxes on the left side.

  4. Make arrows that the students can move to use with the vocabulary words.

  5. Make enough copies of  the slide with all of the items to be manipulated for each group of 2 students.

  6. Place a sticky note on each slide with the names of the students that the slide is assigned to.

  7. Give students 3-5 minutes to go and manipulate their slide.

  8. Have one of the two students present their slide to the class.

Related Lessons

This strategy can be used with the "Explaining what Causes an Air Parcel to Rise" lesson plan because it helps students figure out the steps that cause an air parcel to rise.  It also helps students to understand how higher temperature air rises above cooler air because it is less dense