Developing Language in Primary Science/Document

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1 Science and the use of language

In what ways can work in science help to develop speaking, listening, writing and reading skills? How can children’s understanding of science be enhanced by developing these skills?

It is now a requirement in the science Order for all teachers to consider ways of developing children’s use of language.

Pupils should be taught to express themselves clearly in both speech and writing, and to develop their reading skills. They should be taught to use grammatically correct sentences and to spell and punctuate in order to communicate effectively in written English.

This makes it clear that the development of language skills is an entitlement for all children. To be successful learners, children need to be given opportunities to:

  • speak clearly and effectively to convey information and ideas to a variety of audiences;
  • listen attentively to others to take in meanings, intentions and feelings;
  • read confidently to gain ideas, information and stimulus from written text;
  • write accurately and appropriately to demonstrate understanding and present information and ideas with clarity and precision.

Science can provide a wide range of practical and non-practical experiences within which to develop these skills, and can make a significant contribution to a whole-school approach to language development. Work in science offers children opportunities to develop all aspects of their use of language. Speaking, listening, writing and reading in science reinforce learning because:

  • putting things into words, including speculating, discussing and comparing, helps to clarify children’s understanding of scientific ideas;
  • listening and reading, as well as doing, are ways of learning science;
  • science provides opportunities to predict, sequence ideas and alternatives, as well as to describe and explain.

Children’s learning in science will be enhanced significantly when greater attention is given to language skills. Encouraging children to discuss what happened in their practical work can help them to understand ideas, make connections with previous word and prepare them for further work. Reading and listening to information and ideas form a wide range of sources can extend and consolidate their knowledge and so develop their understanding of their local environment and the world around them.

2 Links between language skills and science

Here are some examples illustrating how links can be made between the language skills developed in each subject.

English Science
Speaking and listening
Explore, develop and clarify ideas Ask questions, e.g. ‘how?’, ‘why?’, ‘what will happen if?’
Describe events, observations and experiences Use scientific vocabulary when talking about living things, materials, phenomena and processes

Talk about the ways some everyday materials (e.g. water, chocolate, bread, clay), change when they are heated or cooled

Listen carefully Follow simple instructions
Report, describe and explain ideas, events and observations Describe rocks and soils in terms of their appearance, texture and permeability

Use their knowledge and understanding of science to explain a familiar event

Make use of a range of sources of information including dictionaries, IT-based reference materials and encyclopaedias Use simple secondary sources to obtain information

Read about the many kinds of sound and the many sources of sound

Read for different purposes from a range of texts and adopt the appropriate skills and strategies Read about the water cycle and the part played by evaporation and condensation

Use keys to identify animals and plants and assign them to groups

Organise and present writing in different ways, helpful to the purpose Present scientific information in a number of ways, through drawings, diagrams, tables and charts, and in writing

Record observations and measurements

Write as a means of developing, organising and communicating ideas Describe and explain the behaviour of living things, materials and process using appropriate scientific vocabulary

Draw conclusions and explain them in terms of scientific knowledge and understanding

3 Activities which develop children’s use of language in science

Moving Things

As they develop their understanding of the nature and effects of forces, children have opportunities to talk about their own and listen to others’ experiences. They are encouraged to use the words ‘push’, ‘pull’ and ‘force’ correctly, to find specific information and to write simple description of events.

The teacher of a Year 2 class devised this topic to introduce children to basic ideas about forces and motion. She started by using a large picture of a fairground. She encouraged them to relate their own experience of fairground rides to this picture and asked them to think of words or phrases to describe the movement of the objects and each of the people shown. ‘Turning’, ‘swinging’ and ‘slowing down’ were some of the suggestions made by the children and the teacher responded by asking each child whether the object or person was getting faster, slowing down or changing direction. This led to consideration of the direction of the movement of the items, and the teacher introduced the words ‘push’, ‘pull’ and ‘force’. Children were encouraged to use them in their contributions to the discussion. They then looked through books to find and then drew pictures of people moving. Underneath each drawing they wrote which sort of force, either a ‘push’ or ‘pull’ was being applied.

In the next activity the teacher used an inflated balloon and a piece of modelling clay. She asked the children to think about and describe what would happen to each when it hit the floor after being dropped from her hand. This prompted the discussion of the change in shape of the modelling clay and the balloon, as well as the changes of speed and direction of both objects, Lastly, the children worked in pairs, describing to each other what forces they use when they undertake everyday activities such as going shopping or cleaning their teeth.


As they develop their understanding of the properties of materials, children listen to and record information from a television programme. They also write up the results of tests using specialist vocabulary and discuss predictions and suggestions with their classmates.

The teacher of a mixed Year 5/6 class introduced this topic by looking at a bicycle belonging to one of the girls in the class. They had to name the different materials they could see and suggest why that particular material had been used for that part of the bicycle, e.g. why rubber is used for the tyres. The class then watched a television programme which described the properties of the materials that are used in the construction of houses. From this, the children were asked to record the reason why each material was used for its particular purpose. A range of objects made from different materials, including aluminium foil, wool, tissue paper, iron nails and plastic bubble wrap, was provided by the teacher and each group had to devise a fair test to find out how well each material kept water hot and if each conducted electricity. Each group was asked to decide which apparatus to use, make careful observations and to present their results in an appropriate form, e.g. table, bar chart or line graph. The teacher introduced the terms ‘thermal insulator’ and ‘electrical conductor’ and the children completed a brief description of what they had done by sorting the materials according to these two properties. Lastly, they were given written description of five further materials, e.g. hardboard and glass which they discussed and for which they suggested possible uses.

4 Long-term planning with language development in mind

In your policies and long-term planning, it is important to ensure that you are developing children’s use of language and enhancing their work in science through the on-going process of reviewing, planning and evaluating your curriculum.

Review - What do you do already?

  • What are the opportunities for developing pupils’ use of scientific vocabulary?
  • How are the reading demands in science planned for?
  • How does pupils’ use of language reveal their understanding of science?

Plan – Can you plan for a greater emphasis on language skills?

  • Include language development in the policy statement/development for science in the school.
  • Highlight language opportunities in units of work for science.
  • Prepare a science vocabulary list for each key stage.
  • Improve the range of reading and listening resources available for work in science.
  • Help children become independent users of these reading and listening resources.
  • Consider progression in language development within a unit of work, a year, a key stage.

Identify – What else might be going on in your school?

  • Who else can you speak to about language development (e.g. other subject co-ordinators, language support staff, head teacher)?
  • Is there a policy for language development in your school?
  • Can you obtain help/advice from the Association for Science Education?
  • Are there further resources or materials the school might consider buying?

Evaluate – How successful are you?

  • Are skills in speaking and listening, writing and reading helping children to improve their knowledge and understanding of science?
  • How, specifically, is work in science helping children to become more competent in their use of language?