For Educators: Language Learning Supports for Math & Science

For Educators: Language Learning Supports for Math & Science

For Educators: Language Learning Supports for Math & Science

By Christina Cunningham

 For educators seeking to incorporate multiple languages into their classrooms, it may appear that the best place to start is within students’ literacy learning. Bilingual students will benefit from labels in their first languages and vocabulary lessons. Plus, opportunities to converse, read and write in multiple languages strengthens their abilities. But, I challenge you to think about the ways you can add dual-language learning into math and science lessons, too. These subjects provide practical and engaging opportunities to support bilingual learners as they explore the world in two languages. Read on for practical tips, and don’t miss the helpful links at the end. 

(Sentence) Starting Off on the Right Foot

Sentence starters are not just for your writing block. During science lessons, when you make hypotheses, as students work in pairs to complete an experiment, or as they share results, provide them with supportive commentary. Sentence starters allow bilingual students to share their thoughts without devoting so much of their memory to producing the correct grammar or terms. This allows dual-language learners to use academic vocabulary in context. Some examples might include:

“I hypothesize that…”

“I predict that…”

“If we…, then…”

“How can we produce…?”

“We could try/change…”

“The result was…” 

Exploring Cognates

Among many Romance languages, words called cognates sound similar and have similar meanings. For instance, in both French and Spanish, the names of shapes are close to their English counterparts: circle and el círculo (Spanish) or triangle and le triangle (French). This applies to all subject areas, but is a particular classroom asset in mathematics and science. Highlighting the words that are cognates can help bilingual learners feel more confident contributing to discussions and supporting conversations with single-language classmates. As you label your classroom or put up resource posters, be sure to include cognates where they apply. Or, start your units with vocabulary talks where you work together to define key terms, with cognates included on your slides. 

Using the Project Approach

The Project Approach, as defined by the Educators Institute at Duke School, is “a set of teaching strategies that enable teachers to guide students through in-depth studies of real topics.” Project-based learning is a lengthier approach. Students have ample time to learn and practice vocabulary, explore ideas and demonstrate understanding. One of its greatest benefits to bilingual students is their teachers’ ability to gather useful information in students’ first languages ahead of time. For instance, when you identify the next topic of study, connect with children’s families to collect translations of vocabulary terms. You can also send home newsletters encouraging families to discuss what children are learning throughout the project. Doing so helps prepare them to share and collaborate with their peers at school. Long-term projects also naturally allow for plenty of repetition, which bolsters learning. All along the way, you should allow children to show what they are learning multi-modally – whether through drawings, models, movement or technologically. This allows bilingual learners to find a way to demonstrate understanding that is most meaningful and accessible to them. 

Finding ways to support your bilingual students is possible in every subject area. Even if you don’t speak the same primary language as your students, careful planning and some assistance from families can go a long way to helping you meet subject-area standards while supporting language growth. Check back soon for more tips for integrating language learning into social studies, the arts and literacy. 

Resources: - This resource includes examples of sentence frames to use during your STEM lessons. - Each link hosts lists of cognates pertaining to the math and science fields in multiple languages. - Explores the project approach, including sample projects from several grade level groups.