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Scientific Vocabulary for English Language Learners Essay


The classical patterns of the science lessons have changed very little throughout the years. Quite often, they begin with teachers drawing numerous words on the blackboard and asking the students to write down the words, find their definitions in vocabulary, and read through them several times before the lesson could begin. It is not a very effective concept, as the words are often given without meaning or connotation, and do not stick in the memory for long. The information is forgotten as soon as it becomes unnecessary. This is the reason why so many of us remember so little from our science lessons, once we finish school. Many students consider science words to be akin to a new language, and the situation is even worse for those to whom English is not a primary language.

During the last two decades, the educational and scientific communities started to make great progress, researching and implementing numerous and advanced methods of teaching ELL and ESL students. These advances were made possible with the rapid progression of technology. At the end of the 20th century, a blackboard and several vocabularies were the teacher’s only tools (Carrier par. 1). Nowadays, every classroom possesses a vast variety of multimedia resources and tools, ranging from projectors to audio-recordings to computers with access to the internet. The extra possibilities gave an additional impulse to researching new practices and techniques.

In order to simplify and improve the comprehension and practical implementation of difficult scientific words for ELL and ESL students, an integrated approach is required, including associations of the words with certain patterns, actions, images, colors, and sounds, with the implementation of the latest technology available in the classroom.

Understanding Scientific Vocabulary


Scientific vocabularies, also known as word banks, are lists of words, which a student is required to know, understand and utilize during their studies (Jackson, Tripp and Cox 45). These lists vary from grade to grade and become more complicated as the studies become more and more complicated. A 7th-grade word bank is much more complex than the word bank of the 4th grade.

Common issues

Learning and using scientific words presents an additional challenge for the ELL and ESL students, as they are forced to utilize them in a language they have not yet fully mastered. EL students often do not possess the required vocabulary needed to comprehend informational texts (“Who are ELL Students?” par. 8). They often experience peer pressure, especially in a mixed class. Cases, when ELL and ESL students are afraid to ask the teacher for additional clarifications because they do not want to look inadequate, are widespread. The situation is often made worse by the curriculum program that cuts hours on science classes. The teachers do not have enough time to make sure the vocabulary is fully understood before they move on to the actual subject of the lesson. Sometimes, the teachers adopt a misguided strategy of the overly simplifying English language so that everybody could understand what they are saying. While it improves the understanding in some degree, it has long-term detrimental consequences, as there is only so much a teacher could explain in simple words and phrases (Robertson par. 1).

Strategies for Teaching and Improving Scientific Vocabulary for the Ell and ESL Students

Inquiry instruction

Multi-sensory instruction is noted in many kinds of research to be extremely effective in assisting emerging ELL and ESL students understand and comprehend the words and learning materials. A variety of support items exists to achieve this goal, such as drawing, pictures, diagrams, video, and audiotapes, as well as interactive multimedia. Hands-on inquiry instruction allows the students develop contextual knowledge of the subject and the English words and definitions related to it. If the instruction process is properly conducted, it will spark interest among the students, which in turn motivates them to learn more and significantly improves the overall results (Carrier par. 2).

Words with multiple meanings

Words with multiple meanings are often confusing even to the native speakers. Dealing with them is a lot harder if one is an English language learner. Because of this, extra attention must be paid to make sure they understand every possible meaning of the word, lest their comprehension of the learning material suffers. The use of word “theory” is a common example – its scientific meaning is much different from how it is used in everyday life. In science, a theory is an explanation backed up by facts and empirical evidence. There are many other words with multiple meanings that could be encountered during science lessons. The teacher is expected to be aware of them. In accordance with the concept of multi-sensory instruction, it is recommended to use pictures and videos with examples alongside oral instruction to make sure that ELL and ESL students understand and remember the material (Powers and Stanfield 12).

Word Walls

Possibly the most traditional method of teaching scientific vocabulary, word walls have been employed in education for a very long time. Before the introduction of multimedia tools the classroom, word walls were created using colorful papers and chalk to offer students visual associations. Modern day researchers, such as Husty and Jackson, emphasize interactivity. They created interactive word walls that implement graphic organizers in order to help the students identify core ideas and definitions and show how one correlates to another. Interactive word walls offer pictures and video material to illustrate the meaning of the words more clearly and often come attached with plenty of definitions for the student to learn along the way. In combination, this method provides the ELL and ESL students with deeper understanding of the given material (Jackson, Tripp and Cox 47).

Other strategies

There are plenty of additional techniques and materials that were made for English learners, but could be helpful to everybody, especially the ELL and ESL students. The most effective ones include the use of repetition, collaborative work in pairs and groups, brainstorming ideas while using scientific language, and using active voice during instruction – practice showed that EL students are much more responsive to active voice, in comparison to passive (Stoddart et al. 651).


While there is a multitude of strategies and researches conducted on the subject, the ones mentioned in this outline are going to help provide the teachers with a good base for innovating their vocabulary practices in class, without falling back on the classic and ineffective methods of instruction. It is hard to dedicate more time to studying words within a tight school program schedule. Planning out word bank classes not only assists the ELL and ESL students in their studies but also makes the best use of the teacher’s time. Using multi-sensory instruction in the everyday curriculum will significantly improve the quality of language learning for young and foreign students alike, and will have an overall positive effect on their studies.

Works Cited

Carrier, Sarah J. Effective Strategies for Teaching Science Vocabulary. Web.

Jackson, Julie, Sherry Tripp and Kimberly Cox. “Interactive Word Walls: Transforming Content Vocabulary Instruction.” The Science Scope 35.3 (2011): 45-49. Print.

Powers, A., and C. Stanfield. “Developing Science Literacy for English Language Learners.” AccELLerate 2.1 (2009): 11–12. Print.

Robertson, Kristina. Web.

Stoddart, Trish, America Pinal, Marcia Latzke and Dana Canaday. “Integrating Inquiry Science and Language Development for English Learners.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 39.8 (2002): 644-687. Print.

Who are ELL Students, 2016. Web.

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1. IvyPanda. "Scientific Vocabulary for English Language Learners." August 10, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/scientific-vocabulary-for-english-language-learners/.


IvyPanda. "Scientific Vocabulary for English Language Learners." August 10, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/scientific-vocabulary-for-english-language-learners/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Scientific Vocabulary for English Language Learners." August 10, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/scientific-vocabulary-for-english-language-learners/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Scientific Vocabulary for English Language Learners'. 10 August.

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