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Three Ways Science Supports Dual Language Learners in the Classroom

Two children are sitting at the table ready to begin painting. The little girl speaks English and Spanish, while the little boy, new to the school, speaks only Spanish. The teacher begins to open the paints, identifying each by their color in both English and Spanish. She invites the children to repeat the names of the colors in both languages. As they paint, the girl notices the colors mixing and says “Look! Green!”. The teacher responds, “You noticed that mixing the paints together causes new colors to form. When you mix yellow and blue, it changes to green.” She then turns to the boy and says “¡Mira! (while pointing to his paper) Cuando mezclas amarillo y azul, cambia a verde.” He smiles and then mixes some red and blue paint. “Morado!” he exclaims. The Little girl looks over and responds “purple”

Children in your classroom that are dual language learners (DLL), may have difficulty engaging with the curriculum due to the dependence on the English language. However, the hands-on nature of science offers the ability to connect with all learners in your classroom, providing children the opportunity to build their language skills, actively engage with other children, and feel like a valued member of the classroom community. Here’s how:

  • Hands-on learning is a critical strategy in supporting DLL because you are able to map language directly to an object or situation that the child is experiencing. This provides context for the child as they build their vocabulary.

  • Engaging in science also supports a DLL classroom because it provides opportunities for children to interact non-verbally as they manipulate materials collaboratively, using gestures and expressions to facilitate their ability to work together even if they may not speak the same language. As in the example above, non-verbal interaction can be quite powerful.

  • Because science is everywhere, we can also honor individual cultures that all students, including DLL, bring to the classroom. Take time to gather information from families that you can then utilize during classroom experiences to make learning more meaningful and engaging for children. For example, as your children learn about planting, invite families to share seeds from foods they regularly eat at home to provide a familiar context to plants.

As you are planning for your classroom, reflect on the type of experiences you are providing. Ask yourself if they are hands-on and meaningful. Consider if children are able to be actively part of their learning and if the materials provide opportunities to map multiple languages onto the experience and connect with unique cultures.

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