STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) activities are highly engaging for students. This is particularly true for English Language Learners. A key component is that the disciplines are integrated. Students typically have a real world problem to solve or project to create.
Here are some overviews of using STEM in the elementary classroom:
Reasons to use STEM Activities with ELLs
- Builds Background Knowledge- Having students take part in or observe an experiment, engineering challenge or other STEM activity creates shared background knowledge. It allows all students in a class to have a shared experience to refer back to.
- Keeps students engaged- Building, creating, and using technology are all highly engaging activities. For ESOL students learning reading, writing, listening, and speaking, it gives them an authentic reason to take part in these language areas. STEM activities are hands on. They give students the opportunity to use their hands. STEM activities also give students real life experiences.
- Speaking opportunities- STEM activities lend themselves to group work, and this creates authentic reasons for student to use academic oral language. ELLs need many opportunities to speak in the classroom. Participating in a whole class discussions can be intimidating. Taking part in a small group building task can be much less intimidating.
Ideas and Resources for Using STEM with ELLs
- Preview vocabulary with students before they begin planing and building. This makes sure that ELLs are able to take part in group discussions with their peers and practice using the new vocabulary.
- Provide graphic organizers.
- Use for planning before building.
- Use to reflect on a STEM challenge after it has been completed.
- Use to record the steps a group uses to complete an activity.
- Use sentence frames.
- “First use the ______.”
- Review prepositions. Particularly if students will be building and you have lower level ELLs this is an authentic opportunity to practice prepositions.
- Provide students with a poster or handout to refer to if these are new terms.
- Read a children’s book and then have students build something out of the book or solve a problem for one of the characters
- five-ways-to-add-reading-to-your STEM
- I used kits from Lakeshore Learning that came with short fairy tales, graphic organizers for students to draw and write a plan before building, and materials to build with. My student loved working with them! I created a Donors Choose project since these materials are pricy.