All-in-One Recipe: First Language, Substitution Tables and Graphic Organisers in Science

We’re back to Science this time and we’re going to look at a lesson where the differentiation combines the use of graphic organisers, first language and substitution tables.

In the previous Science lesson, the children started making predictions about which objects are magnetic and learned about the types of materials that can be magnetic. They were saying sentences like “I think a 10p coin is magnetic because…” and were justifying their claims. They were saying these in their own language and English; their first language helped them to use their prior knowledge from their countries of origin, transfer it to English and support the production of the statements in the English language.

Trouble is, of course, that “I think” is not exactly formal scientific language. I wanted them to able to make predictions and then verify their claims using proper formal academic language such as “we found out”, “we discovered”, “it corroborated our claim” and  “it disproved our claim”. Think that new arrivals can’t be taught this? – think again! Anything is possible in my classroom!

For this, we needed, as I already said, a combination of the first language, graphic organisers and substitution tables.

This is how the lesson went:

First, the students needed to revisit their knowledge from the previous week. I used a starter activity for this where the students needed to remember the names of the objects/concepts (magnetic) from the previous lesson. I produced three versions of such a revision activity: the lowest “red” level needed to match the pictures to the terms/objects. The middle level (orange) needed to do the same, but only had the first letters of the terms, e.g. “felt pen” was “f___ p__”. The top green level needed to simply write the words for the pictures presented to them. This went quite well and speedily. The objects in the list were the same objects for which the learners were about to make predictions and investigation with.

I used just a little bit of the EAL Nexus magnetism materials here (The Bell Foundation, 2017). First, the students needed to make predictions as to whether the objects were magnetic or not. This was a collaborative learning activity where students needed to use speaking cards; it’s not a good teaching of the English language if a learner can just say “magnetic” or “not magnetic” and be done with it! Production of sentences is key.

The EAL Nexus resources had speaking cards already , but I adapted them so that the word “think” wouldn’t be used. Look at the examples below. Rather than simply say, “I think _______ is magnetic” or “I think _________ will be magnetic”, which is what they did the previous lesson, actually, I got them to say phrases such as “I believe _________ is magnetic” and “I predict _________ will be magnetic.” I have also changed the card that said “I am not sure if _______ is magnetic” to “I am not  certain if _______ is magnetic.” and “Please can you repeat that?” became “Please can you restate that?” You can see how more formal, academic language is insisted upon here.

Following this pair activity, the students were given magnets and the objects and now conducted an investigation to see if their predictions met the actual reality. As they conducted these, they ticked “magnetic” or “non-magnetic” in the last column of the diagram.

Now I needed to get them to write up sentences about both their predictions and their investigations, and whether their original predictions were the same as their eventual results. Having high expectations dictates that you ask the students to do this using scientific language, not Facebook-like language!

Below is what was done:

First, the learners needed the actual language to use, and they needed to know that different words, with synonymous meanings, can be used in different contexts and that they come in different shades of formality and informality. Look at the clines below. Each contains 5 words, which learners are to place on the cline from the left to the right going upwards, starting with the least formal and moving to the most formal. They translated them first (I have time in my class to do so; you could set it as homework prior to your lesson), and then, working together, using their first language understandings, placed them on the clines. I needed to give some learners guidance with this, but overall, it was quite successful on the students’ first attempts.

Once we had these words arranged from spoken-like to academic like, and the learners understood what they meant, we were one step closer to writing 2-sentence paragraphs about the predictions and outcomes of the investigations. To scaffold their writing, I used a graphic organiser, which included substitution tables. This needed to be levelled:

The lowest level had most boxes filled in; the words in the boxes were arranged from non-academic to academic already, but they needed to highlight the ones they chose (these were supposed to be more academic). Look below: where you see the arrows, the decision needed to be made between “magnetic” and “non-magnetic”. In the second sentence, which is a complex sentence, they needed to decide whether to use a word from the first list or the second to show that their findings either corroborated or refuted their original claim. This is where most of the struggle came across the class, but again, with support, they were able to get their heads around it.

The orange (middle) level looks a bit similar, but here the words in the boxes are not arranged from the least formal to the most formal but are mixed up, so more thinking is required to figure out which word to use that is more academic. Additionally, the choice between “was” and “were” was removed from the black arrows in the second part of the paragraph and the students needed to figure out what word (verb) should be placed here. I did not remove “would be” from the arrows in the first sentence – for this level, I deemed this to be far too challenging; the fact that “will” in “We predict it will…” changes to “would” when we change the sentence’s tense to a past one as in “We predicted it would” felt considerably outside the zone of proximal development for these learners.

The green level (below) is clearly the most challenging here as barely any words are present and learners are asked to write in the academic words into the boxes themselves. Clearly, they need to know which set of words makes sense in which sentence, i.e. “predict” needs to be used in the first sentence only, but can’t be used in the second. Obviously, the decision on whether to use “corroborate” or “refute” needs to be made correctly in order for the sentences to make sense. As you can see, for the top level I did remove “would be” as well. These learners were able to access this – keep in mind, we did rehearse these sentences and their grammatical structures orally first before starting to put the pen down to paper. From talk to writing: this should be any teacher’s way of approaching writing.

The result was that learners were able to write reports of their investigations using scientifically-sound and academically-sound sentences. We combined the use of the first language (on the clines), graphic organisers and substitution tables (here, they are the tables giving learners the choice of words such as “supported” or “verified”). We also promoted the use of academic language, and avoided giving the learners an impression that they can use simple language to “get by” within the subject of Science – no one should remain under such impression, including EAL learners.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please confirm you are human: *