top of page

Easy, Low Prep & Effective EAL Strategies for Science Teachers

My very first international school was Nansha College Preparatory Academy, in the Guangzhou area of southern China and it was (and is) a 100% EAL student population. Our students came to NCPA specifically to learn english while they were earning an American High School Diploma, taking AP classes and preparing for college or university abroad. It was at this school that I first heard the phrase "every teacher is an English teacher" and while it was an unsettling and scary thought at first I quickly realized just how true that statement can be and should be.

I was very fortunate to have a large amount of training and support to help me be an English teacher while teaching Integrated Science, Biology & AP Environmental Science and the lessons I have learned continue to serve me well in my classroom today. Some EAL strategies, like the interactive word wall you can see in the photo above of my classroom in China, take a lot of prep and work, especially the first time around, while others are very quick to make and use. This post will focus on the most effective and low prep strategies I have learned and still use to this day.

Strategy #1: Lab Word Wall

I have found that many of my students, regardless of their language skills struggle with the long list of specialized lab equipment vocabulary: Erlenmeyer flask, Buret, Scoopula & Graduated cylinder are

not words that students use often, but they are critical to students being able to follow a laboratory procedure and discuss their findings and sources of error. The simplest way I have found to do this is to make a word wall with the lab equipment images and names and have it permanently ready to go beside my whiteboard. I have chosen to organize the terms into categories such as heating tools, measurement tools or glassware to help me find the right words quickly and to help students identify unknown lab tools.

While word walls are a commonly used EAL strategy, the beauty of a lab word wall is that it is always ready to go, you make it once & use it for every unit and every course for years. I like to put the cards up on the board with magnets, choosing only the terms which are relevant for that day's lab. I encourage my more advanced students to use the lab word wall as a tool when they are designing their own experiments and can't remember the name of a particular piece of equipment. Once students learn how to use this resource it saves so much time and really helps them develop independent lab skills.

Strategy #2: Tell Me More

This is a great way to get your students to use specialized scientific vocabulary out loud in a comfortable and fun way. Simply choose a diagram such as the carbon cycle one shown below, I like to use the same diagram I have been teaching a concept with and write "Tell Me More" on your slide, it's a good idea to make sure the diagram is very large. Then have students find a partner, you can do intentional pairings or let the students choose, I tend to mix it up based on the class and their needs.

Tell Me More Carbon Cycle Diagram
Image Credit @Jay Reimer

Explain to the students that for the first half of the activity (about 3 minutes depending on the complexity of the diagram) one partner will describe what they see and the other will respond only with "tell me more". This means that the student who is describing the image can start by reading the image and describing what they see, but as time goes on they will need to be more creative and find new things to say... all while practicing pronunciation and application of key vocabulary terms. After about 3 minutes, pause the class and have them switch, the other partner describes to the response of "tell me more". I have found that students enjoy being the "tell me more" partner and that the format makes students feel comfortable enough that they take more risks. It's hard to be embarrassed or nervous when everyone else is doing the same thing, there is a buzz in the room that means you don't have much of an audience and you have someone's undivided attention as they repeatedly say "tell me more". This strategy takes so little prep and is so effective that I use it at least once a unit in my Integrated Science, IB Biology & Environmental Science classes.

Strategy #3: Exemplars & Model Texts

Many students who struggle with organizational skills, following instructions or who simply do not have sufficient English language skills to follow multi-step procedures benefit from an exemplar &/or model text. While these two strategies are slightly different I tend to use them in similar ways, whenever I ask my students to make something like a template in their Science notebook or a large diagram foldable I always make one at the same time which acts as an exemplar. I then make sure the exemplar is either on the board if it is a single piece of paper or in my resource library if it is a notebook. This means when students need more support, for whatever reason, there is a scaffold for them, ready to go.

After I make these exemplars the first time I tuck them away in my binder or filing cabinet to use next time.... easy and effective, my favourite kind of strategy.

A model text is something I tend to make only for writing styles which we will use repeatedly in a course, such as a CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) model text or a lab report model. I like to have these printed and laminated and available to students in my classroom. When I have been fortunate enough to work closely with an EAL co-teacher they have often been able to help make these model texts, that we then use again and again. For this reason it is ideal to use a lab or situation which will never be a summative assessment in class and which can be understood by students at different levels.

I often use a paper airplane lab as my model text lab for my middle schools and Grades 9 & 10 students.

Another example I like to use is how the number of hours a student spends studying affects their grades in Science, see a model text below about this topic. This one includes guidelines and sentence frames in black and the model text in blue and is a useful tool for students who are learning how to write a lab report. You can download this file for your own classroom use here, I hope you find it helpful!

MYP Experimental Design Exemplar
Download PDF • 67KB


Thanks for reading teachers, travelers & curious souls of all kinds.

The Roaming Scientist



Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I'm the kind of teacher who is always trying something new, new labs, new Apps, new scaffolds and even new countries to live and teach in. I'm looking forward to share what I learn with you all through my weekly blog posts. 

Let the posts
come to you.

Thanks for submitting!

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
bottom of page