Science-Centered Language Development

Collage of students reading and writing

Exploring the Intersection of Science and Language

"Teams of science inquirers talk about and write about their questions, their tentative explanations, their relationships between evidence and explanations, and their reasons and judgements about public presentations and scientific arguments on behalf of their work. It is the context of this kind of scientific activity that students' literacy of the spoken and written word develops along with the literacy of the phenomenon."

Hubert M. Dyasi, "Visions of Inquiry: Science"

The FOSS active investigations, science notebooks, FOSS Science Resources articles, and formative assessments provide rich contexts in which students develop and exercise thinking and communication. These elements are essential for effective instruction in both science and language arts—students experience the natural world in real and authentic ways and use language to inquire, process information, and communicate their thinking about scientific phenomena. FOSS refers to this development of language process and skills within the context of science as science-centered language development.

There are many ways to integrate language into science investigations. The most effective integration depends on the type of investigation, the experience of students, the language skills and needs of students, and the language objectives that you deem important at the time. The Science-Centered Language Development chapter of each module's Teacher Resources book is a library of resources and strategies for you to use. The chapter describes how literacy strategies are integrated purposefully into the FOSS investigations, gives suggestions for additional literacy strategies that both enhance students’ learning in science and develop or exercise English-language literacy skills, and develops science vocabulary with scaffolding strategies for supporting all learners.

Reading in FOSS Science Resources

FOSS Science Resources emphasizes expository articles and biographical sketches. FOSS suggests that the reading be completed during language-arts time. When language-arts skills and methods are embedded in content material that relates to the authentic experience students have had during the FOSS active-learning sessions, students are interested, and they get more meaning from the text material.


Discourse and Reflective Thinking

Discourse is tremendous exercise for the mind. Have you considered the immense complexity of converting experiences and ideas into words to be spoken or written? An idea or concept must be synthesized from the innumerable bits of stored information and that concept must then be constructed into a string of symbols we call words, and output in a sequence that conveys information. An awesome cognitive process.

This is the essence of discourse - putting ideas and experiences into words. The process requires a tremendous amount of information processing, internal verification, and validation of what is known. This dimension of elementary science is sometimes referred to as the minds-on approach to science. It simply means science. It simply means that it is not enough just to work with materials—you have to think about what the experience with materials tells you about the world.

Teacher and students going through a lesson

Discourse takes several forms in FOSS:

  • Focused discussions take place in collaborative groups.
  • Traditional whole-class question-and- answer sessions summarize a lesson and put important points in front of the class.
  • Content/inquiry sessions wrap up each part of each investigation.
  • Student sheets help students collect and organize data and discuss the results in thoughtful ways. (Student sheet discourse may be an individual or a group effort.)
  • Response sheets elicit individual discourse on specific topics for assessment purposes.

Reading and Research

In science, reading and research extends their experience beyond the limits of the classroom and the FOSS module; they can enhance their understanding of concepts by exposure to related ideas and they can share in the lives of real and fictitious people who played roles in scientific discovery or applied scientific ideas to life situations. FOSS Science Resources articles were written to add this dimension to the FOSS program. However, we believe strongly that primary source of science information in the elementary curriculum should be personal experience, not reading. Carefully selected reading materials, provided after an activity-based foundation is in place, can add a very effective dimension to science learning.

Other research tools recommended in the context of the hands-on activities for students include video excursions, computer software, and the internet.