What the science teacher needs to know

This page has information for science teachers on how to get the best out of the ESL students in their classes.


ESL students typically do well in science and many say that it is their favourite subject.

Reasons why ESL students do well in science

There are good reasons for this. Firstly, science is based on certain universal principles and procedures. So, very often students will be familiar with science laboratory practices. They may also have some prior knowledge in the particular field being studied.

Secondly, science is a subject that generally advances from the concrete to the abstract. Students are first required to observe and measure before being asked to hypothesize and analyse.

And thirdly, much work in the science lab is done in small groups. This maximizes the ESL students chance to engage in meaningful interactions with their peers and the teacher, thus improving their chances both of learning English and of learning science.

Suggestions for the science teacher

So, it seems that the very nature of the science class is ideal for the ESL student. The advice to the teacher can be summarized as follows:

  • activate existing knowledge
  • progress from concrete sensory experiences to abstract reasoning
  • organize the class in small workgroups with clearly defined tasks.

Laboratory reports

One very important aspect of science work is the lab report. ESL students often find lab reports challenging and need help with both the structure and the language of the report.

Here is a page that gives instructions to students on how to set out and write a fictive lab report.

Further reading

There is a good overview of how the science teacher can help develop writing skills at: Teaching Writing to Potentially English Proficient Students... .