Monday, May 16, 2016

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ESL Writing for STEM 2 - Hands-on Short-Answer Writing

Hands-on science activities with short-answer writing

In many cases, I simply wish to give students basic writing practice using STEM-related prompts, rather than craft complete essays. I was drawn to activities from elementary school science class. Initially, I wondered if my students would find this somewhat insulting, as they were projects and topics that I remember from fourth grade. But in reality, they seemed to enjoy this. I wondered if in their country, education was not so hands-on and perhaps they did not engage in such activities.

One activity was to make homemade flashlights. After reading some articles and reviewing diagrams of electric circuits and their components, I distributed to each pair of students a AA battery, small light bulb, copper wire, paperclips, and some cardboard and tape for mounting. After they all spent some time putting it together, each group had quite a unique looking flashlight, some of which worked more successfully than others. Then, I had the students write a short paragraph explaining how their flashlight worked. Sample language would include such sentences as:

First, the electricity flowed from the battery terminal into the contact on the end of the light bulb. The filament inside the bulb illuminates and emits lights. The electricity flows out again and through the copper wire to the negative electrode on the battery. A switch on the wire can either break the circuit or let the electricity continue flowing.

Another activity involved growing bacteria cultures. I had our department order in two sets of petri dishes pre-filled with agar. In groups, the students decided which surfaces to swab for their cultures. Key vocabulary included bacteria, exposure, surface, replicate, incubate, and so on. I took the petri dishes home and left them for a couple of days inside my oven with the light on, which resulted in a nice warm environment for the bacteria to grow. Back in the classroom, they wrote answers to a series of short-answer questions, requiring the use of the target vocabulary.