Growing Language Through Science, K-5: Strategies That Work


Judy Reinhartz

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    To science for the wonder and delight it offers.

    To Dennis, my husband, best friend, and super teacher, the light of my life.

    To Dr. M. Houman Fekrazad, for his scientific knowledge and compassion, who gave me a second chance at life.


    Growing Language Through Science, K–5: Strategies That Work is an excellent and much-needed resource for all teachers of language learners in the science classroom. Too often, students whose first language is not English are taken out of the science classroom for additional tutoring with the idea that science is “too difficult” for them, thus depriving them of a science content background that might lead to future careers in science and technology. On a more global scale, such actions rob our nation and society of the contributions that these individuals may make in the future in science and related fields. It is past time to take action to ensure that all of our young people receive a solid foundation in science, not only for future careers, but to contribute intelligently to our society. To fail to do so is to fail our youth, our nation, and our future.

    Growing Language Through Science, K–5: Strategies That Work focuses on the codevelopment of science and language learning in grades K–5. With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, this book provides a rich resource for school systems, districts, and teachers to help students in learning both science and language. The NGSS were developed for the purpose of providing all students an internationally benchmarked science education. This includes the thousands of students in our classrooms who are English learners. The book affords a teacher a way to accomplish this goal and to develop and supplement an outstanding science program in their own classroom through exercises, investigations, games, ideas, and other activities. All of these are based on the way students learn science effectively. The NGSS includes critical thinking and communication skills that students need for postsecondary success and citizenship in a world “fueled by innovations in science and technology.” The NGSS integrates these practices with the science content. This book provides a practical approach for K–5 teachers to accomplish the goals of the NGSS and to facilitate language learners’ understanding and practice of these skills.

    Up until recently, with the arrival of the NGSS and the Common Core’s emphasis on students reading texts in science, many elementary teachers left science out of the school day due to high stakes testing associated with teaching and learning language arts and mathematics. Because of this, many experienced K–5 teachers have not taught science and are very uncomfortable with the thought of doing so. Growing Language Through Science, K–5: Strategies That Work offers an easy-to-follow road map for both experienced teachers and new teachers to develop and implement a very successful science program in their classrooms. The English Language Arts Standards of the Common Core stress critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills, and the book suggests easy-to-follow methods for teachers to teach these skills to their students. The book provides the link between the English Language Development Standards, which identify the relationship between what students need to know and be able to do as they move toward full fluency in English, and the Next Generation Science Standards.

    On a personal level, the book is dear to me because of the emphasis it places on the natural curiosity children have for science and the importance of the teacher in building on this curiosity and motivation to learn science. My own pursuit of a PhD and a career in science education was fueled by the knowledge that children have an innate desire to understand our natural world, but that too often the desire and curiosity about science is doused by the way science is taught. Growing Language Through Science, K–5: Strategies That Work presents practical strategies that capitalize on students’ desires to learn. The book connects research and best practice for the elementary school grades in teaching and learning both science and language, and it provides the way for learners to experience success in a language-rich science program.

    —Katherine I. Norman


    Perhaps the greatest idea that America has given the world is education for all.

    —R. Hutchins

    Teacher learning is an evolutionary process in which this learning must be linked to classroom practice. Building on this connection, teachers are more likely to implement what they have learned to contribute to the academic success of their students. This book endeavors to change the dynamics of teacher learning and subsequent student learning. My hope is to empower and engage teachers in purposeful and relevant instructional experiences that link current research with effective science classroom practice.

    Features of the Book

    The contents of this book are derived from (1) a sequence of professional development sessions with teachers and principals, (2) conference presentations, (3) consultations with school administrators and teachers at individual campuses, (4) some 47 years of teaching experience, and (5) coaching school leaders to find ways to better support English learners in science. The ideas and strategies in this book have been “field tested” over many years in elementary, middle, and high school monolingual, dual-language, and bilingual science classrooms, as well as in university courses across the country.

    Learning science is a tall order for students who come to school with different cultural and language backgrounds and varying levels of proficiency in English. This presents a challenge for both students and their teachers. To complicate matters, science has a demanding academic vocabulary, including multisyllabic words that are often hard to pronounce, complex definitions to understand and remember, and visuals that are often difficult to comprehend. Accordingly, “doing science” sets the stage for students to use communicative language in the classroom. This approach moves science away from strictly using textbooks and other print materials to integrating science literature and more kinesthetic experiences into the learning process.

    As teachers expand their instructional repertoire, their students learn in a comfortable environment that encourages them to test their science knowledge and language skills. Whether it is singing a song about clouds, exploring shadows using outlines of their bodies on the school grounds at different times of day, reading short science fun facts on the inside of Snapple caps, and/or recording observations of different objects in their science notebooks, students have multiple opportunities to enjoy learning science and to use their listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills.

    This book is based on three fundamental principles to grow language in grades K–5 science classrooms:

    • Building teacher capacity to meet students’ instructional needs
    • Valuing students’ educational, cultural, and linguistic diversity
    • Appreciating and understanding the interdependence of teaching and learning

    It also lays the foundation for contextualizing language by framing instruction within the 5E model (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate). Students put their language to work as they participate in each of the 5Es, and in doing so, they develop and expand their scientific understanding.

    A key feature of this book, the codevelopment of science and language learning, stems from working with science teachers, dual and bilingual teachers, and their students, as well as from my ongoing research. This book distinguishes itself from other supplementary K–5 instructional resources in three distinct ways. First, it serves as a bridge connecting research and practice within the existing and evolving social, cultural, and linguistic landscapes of elementary schools. Second, the book provides a window into language-rich science classrooms, rendering a smoother transition for English learners to experience success in science. Third, it presents a language-centered approach using a variety of exercises, investigations, and games that teachers can easily adopt to supplement their existing science programs, thereby further benefitting all their students.

    Highlights for Setting the Stage for Growing Language in Science

    Learning science is a cumulative process that commences in the early grades and builds a developmental path for learning science and growing language. Understanding this learning progression is essential for planning and teaching science topics in ways that are described in the Framework for K–12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Disciplinary Ideas.

    The Framework sets the tone for what it means to be proficient in science. Teaching and learning science build on the notion that science knowledge is based on evidence that is continually being extended, refined, and revised. It is this vision that I embrace, and that is reflected throughout the book. In the Framework, there are three grade bands—K–5, 6–8, and 9–12—and this book focuses on the first, grades K–5.

    The book includes a vast array of strategies in the form of exercises, investigations, and activities that teachers can use to enrich their science programs. Many of these have been uploaded to the companion website for easy access. The book also complements the current national, state, and district curricula and science and language standards in providing a structure for lifelong teacher learning.

    Young students have a joy of learning and get excited about almost everything; they are curious about what they hear or see, and about how things work. As a first grader has said about science, it is “figyoring theings oat.” Students’ natural curiosity propels them to explore, using their senses, language skills, and cognitive abilities. And the quality of these exciting “science journeys” that students want to talk about and share is determined by their teachers.

    Tapping into students’ natural curiosity gives science teachers an advantage that many other teachers do not enjoy. Science becomes the ideal environment in which to grow language because, as Rachel Carson notes in Silent Spring, students want to share what interests them. And it is through this sharing, using the communication skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, that they increase their language proficiency.

    The book begins with a brief discussion of the role that curiosity plays in science. Students come to school having an innate desire to learn, and they bring this desire to the science classroom, which makes a world of difference in growing their language. Science is a motivator and an academic engine for utilizing language. But it is the teacher who is crucial in fostering students’ natural curiosity by implementing best inquiry practices that capitalize on the students’ desire to learn.

    This book seeks to heighten teachers’ awareness of the critical role that language plays in science. When planning lessons, knowing the science is important, but so is awareness of language use for communication and learning, such as in print materials, argumentation, and discourse, that come into play when learning science. Science serves as a catalyst for students to use their language skills in relevant and purposeful ways both in the classroom and at home with family members.

    Design and Organization of the Book

    Throughout the book, figures and illustrations serve to enrich the textual discussions. Each chapter has a quotation, an introduction, a conclusion, and a section that includes opportunities for readers to think further about the content in and across chapters. Taking the time to reflect offers opportunities to think about the information presented in the light of the reader’s instructional practices. Implementing reflection practices often becomes a challenge because it requires “wait time” for teachers to think and make informed decisions. There are many ways to engage in reflective practices:

    Chatting with others, including your students

    Jotting down ideas to be explored later

    Pausing and routinely stepping back

    Observing your classroom and students

    Documenting what you and your students are doing

    Seeing through the eyes of your students

    Partnering with colleagues, parents, and administrators

    Reading to keep current

    Joining network blogs and sharing your issues and ideas

    The references cited in each chapter can be found in one list at the end of the book. Last, there is a companion website,, that includes not only additional resources, but also several documents from the chapters in both Word and PDF formats.

    The book has four major parts and ten chapters. Part I, Science Teaching and Learning Using a Language Lens, includes three chapters. Chapter 1 serves as an introduction to the current science education landscape and diversity of learners and levels of language proficiency. Chapter 2 addresses the importance of effective teaching and learning principles from research and connecting them with practice. And Chapter 3 presents the 5E instructional model against the backdrop of teaching and learning through inquiry.

    Part II, Science and Language in the Science Classroom: A Good Pairing, includes five chapters that present the content and inquiry strategies that teachers can use to promote science and language learning. Chapter 4, The Power of Questions, lays the groundwork for all of Part II. Chapter 5, Doing Science, includes sample lessons and ideas for hands-on exercises, as well as a discussion of three types of investigations: descriptive, comparative, and experimental. Chapter 6, Navigating Through the Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Science Ideas: Physical Sciences and Earth and Space Sciences, and Chapter 7, Life Sciences Across the Grades, address topics from different science disciplines, as well as engineering design, and incorporate activities for teaching them. Children’s literature, used extensively throughout the book, is included in Chapters 6 and 7 to enhance and demonstrate how such texts can be utilized to augment science learning and contribute to language growth. Chapter 8, Games: A Context for Meaningful Learning and Communication Language Usage, brings Part II to a close. Integrating educational games to promote science learning is a clever way to get students to play and use their communication skills, while in reality they are learning.

    Part III, Enhancing the School–Home Connection, is comprised of one chapter. Chapter 9, School–Home Science Connection, explores ways to bring children and their parents together through the study of science. Doing science at home reinforces the idea that science is everywhere, not just in school. At the same time, this chapter offers teachers ways to increase parental involvement in school activities and their children’s education, which is critical to their academic success.

    Part IV, Assessing Learning, also contains one chapter. Chapter 10, How Do We Know That Students Know?, describes the assessment process as well as strategies that drive teaching and student learning. The focus on assessment is on learning and how to support students in meeting the learning expectations that begin with planning rather than after teaching.

    The Epilogue brings the book to a close. It offers some final thoughts about the importance of engagement that can lead to growing language through science as teachers and their students travel the learning journey together.

    There are several figures that are too long for inclusion in the chapters that can be found on the website. Last, the index is arranged by science topics and the strategies for teaching them, providing an easy way to access desired information. May your science journey be as fruitful as that of your students, because together the final results can be amazing!

    To keep your journey an ongoing experience, a companion website,, has been designed to house resources and figures, including some in Word form so that you can modify them to meet the needs of your particular students. Content will be added to the website periodically to keep the bright ideas flowing.


    I want to thank all the people who devoted time and effort to make this book possible, with special thanks to Juanita Esparza, who encouraged the integration of language and science and made possible the implementation of these ideas.

    Publisher’s Acknowledgments
    • Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:
    • Thelma A. Davis
    • Principal
    • Clark County School District
    • Las Vegas, NV
    • Jon Maxwell, PhD
    • Elementary Math and Science Curriculum Coordinator
    • Katy Independent School District
    • Katy, TX
    • Lyneille Meza
    • Coordinator of Data and Assessment
    • Denton Independent School District
    • Denton, TX
    • Louise Wilkinson
    • Distinguished Professor of Education
    • Syracuse University
    • Syracuse, NY

    About the Author

    Judy Reinhartz’s career spans nearly five decades in K–16 education, as an elementary and middle school science teacher; a secondary school science teacher and department science chair; and a professor of undergraduate and graduate science education, curriculum development, research, educational leadership and supervision, and instructional strategy courses. She is also a researcher; a writer of numerous articles, chapters, and books; a presenter and consultant; and director of centers for science, research, effective teaching and learning, grant-funded science academies and institutes, and clinical experiences and student teaching. Judy has developed a culture of inquiry and worked with diverse populations of students, teachers, college faculty, staff, members of the business community, and parents in varied educational settings at the local, state, national, and international levels. Throughout her career, she has been a champion for teaching science. She has presented a myriad of research into practice studies at professional meetings and conducted professional development for teachers and administrators, many targeting science teaching to diverse learners. Judy was an associate dean and is professor emeritus at the University of Texas at El Paso, and her degrees include a PhD from the University of New Mexico, master’s from Seton Hall University, and bachelor’s from Rutgers University. She is the recipient of the AMOCO Outstanding Teacher Award (now called the Chancellor’s Council Award for Excellence in Teaching) from the University of Texas at Arlington, where she also was a professor for many years. She also received the Crystal Apple Award for Contributions to Education from Tarleton State University, the Kyle Killough Award for Contributions to Teacher Centers, the Ted Booker Award for Outstanding Contributions to Teacher Education, the Service Award for Contributions to the Mid-Cities Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, and from Texas Society for College Teacher Educators, the Special Recognition for Contributions to Teacher Education. As a consultant, she has worked with many elementary and middle school faculty at specific school campuses on the Texas/Mexico border to promote language through science. Upon leaving one of Judy’s presentations, a teacher commented, “I am leaving with an arsenal of science ideas that I never would have thought of on my own [smiley face].” And on an evaluation a student said of Judy, “Her excitement is contagious. Science did not interest me until this class. Now, it’s my favorite subject to teach.”

  • Epilogue

    The Mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.


    This quote is at the heart of my book. Science can be a spark for engaging students because it has a built-in set of motivators. Growing Language Through Science, K–5: Strategies That Work is founded upon the notion of meaningful and relevant “doing” that motivates students to investigate things that they truly want to because they see the virtues in doing them (Azzam, 2014). Students who enjoy what they do will freely let their teachers and classmates know what they are doing, and why. When approaching science teaching from this perspective, using language skills becomes a natural pairing with science learning.

    Having teachers appreciate the purpose and need for planning gives rise to answering students’ oft-asked question, “What’s the point to learning this?” Planning meaningful science lessons—with attention to language—that engage students offers them an invitation to learn.

    Just as anchor charts are developed collaboratively with students, so it is with motivation. As Wormeli (2014) suggests, motivation is something that teachers create with students, not something they do to them. Having students focus on goals they had a hand in choosing takes engagement, motivation, and learning to a whole new level (Serravallo, 2014). Getting students’ attention using motivational strategies prepares them for growing language through science, because motivation does matter!

    Today’s science classrooms should focus less on sorting students and more on supporting them. By using science as a catalyst for language usage, all students have a better chance of not falling behind and succumbing to a losing streak that makes them stop trying. Teachers should embrace a new vision of success for their students that taps into their learning potential.

    This book is filled with strategies that have a track record of success with elementary school students. These strategies have worked to motivate students to use their language as they immerse themselves in science exercises and investigations. More resources and ideas can be found on the companion website,"Error! Hyperlink reference not valid..

    As teachers continue to adjust their plans and search for better ways to reach their students, we are reminded of John Cotton Dana’s plea that they “never stop learning.” In language-rich science classrooms, the lifelong learning journeys for students and teachers are just beginning.


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