The First Thing I Tell A New Class.

Hi everyone. My name is Mr Liacos and I’m going to be your Science teacher this year. I’m hoping that you’ll enjoy Science. We’re going to do pracs, theory work, assignments, and other things, and by the end of the year you’ll know a lot more than you do now!

Now even though I’m your Science teacher, I also consider myself to be one of your English teachers. Probably the most important thing you learn at school is reading and writing, and even though you can all read and write, the more practise you get, the better you get.

So, I like Science and I like learning about Science (I became a Science teacher after all!), and I’m hoping you like Science too, but even if you don’t, I want to use the time in class to keep developing the two most important skills that anyone learns in school: reading and writing. You will use your English skills for the rest of your lives in every aspect of your lives.

So, whenever you’re answering questions, or writing down the observations you made in a prac, or completing an assignment, I don’t want you to concentrate just on the Science, but also on the English. I want you to try to write everything in your best English.
I don’t just want a correct answer, I want a well-written correct answer!

What I’m going to do is regularly ask you to read out what you’ve written to the rest of the class and I want to comment not just on whether your work is correct but also on the English. This way you get to practise your English more AND you’ll be able to teach others about the work we’re doing. You’re not just going to learn stuff from me, but you’re going to learn stuff from each other. This class is a learning community, and we are all going to contribute to everyone’s knowledge.

Finally, let me say this. Quite often, kids used to say to me, “Sir, I get it, why do I have to write it down?” The science is often the easy part. It’s the English, the good English, the well-expressed English that is the difficult part. But it’s the most important part and the part that cuts across every subject and it’s the part that will help you more than any other part. So do your best. I’m looking forward to a good year.
So let’s begin…

Note to Teachers:
After, say, a prac, I usually get 4 or 5 kids to read out their answers to Question 1. I then give some quick feedback to each student after they’ve read out their answers. I then get 4 or 5 kids to read out their answers to Question 2, and so on. This takes a bit of time, but it’s worth it.

Quite often, I get them to write out a summary of the whole prac: what the aim of the prac was, what they did, their findings, the scientific explanation of their results, and how the prac relates to real-world scenarios. I first ask them to suggest some key words that they might want to use, and I write those words on the board. They then wrote their summaries and 5 or 10 minutes later, I select a few of them to read out their answers.

So, for example, they might write:
In this prac, we investigated the expansion of metals when they’re heated. We attached one end of a metal rod to a retort stand and placed the other end above a pin with a straw stuck through it. We found that the metal rod expanded a little when it was heated because as it expanded, the pin rolled forward and the straw position changed. The metal expanded because the atoms were vibrating faster and so they took up more room. When the metal rod cooled down, the metal contracted. Engineers have to take the expansion and contraction of metals into account when they design bridges and buildings.
(see the instructions for this prac here.)

I’ve been teaching like this for quite a few years now and it has been received very positively by my students. They get to show off their work to the rest of the kids, they get to hear “best-practice” answers from other kids which lifts everyone’s standards, and kids who may not have understood something first time get to hear the answers from their peers. Everyone wins. And that’s how classes should be!

After watching a Shedding Light program, I do the same thing with the worksheet answers. Students are asked to read out their answers. This reinforces the fact that what they write has to be understood by an audience, they practice their English, and they all learn from each other. And they’ve all got a much higher chance of learning a concept if they’ve heard it 4 or 5 times!

I am totally convinced that by emphasising literacy, but surrounding literacy within the context of Science, my students learn both better!

Epilogue: Even though I start by emphasizing literacy, it usually isn’t long before I start stressing the importance of numeracy. If you browse the Shedding Light worksheets, there are a lot of questions that require numeracy. I also make a big deal about numeracy, but I start with literacy.
So, try it out!

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