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Texas ISD School Guide
Texas ISD School Guide

Lessons & Classroom Games for Teachers

Adapting a Science lesson to ESL - Lesson
By:Fabiano Franklin and Yara Araujo

Adapting a Science Project to ESL Students

One of the main difficulties that ESL students face in the regular classrooms is understanding the normal content-focused language in order to perform academically at their grade level.

Aware of this difficulty, ESL instructors Yara Araújo and Fabiano Franklin recently developed an ecosystem project in the ESL classroom that supported their 6th grade students’ regular classroom science instruction. The project was adapted from a regular science lesson to better meet the needs of the ESL students by making the vocabulary more understandable for ESL students and simplifying some of the concepts.


The main objective of the lesson was to encourage a discussion on ecosystems, starting with basic definitions which included:

• what is an ecosystem,
• what are its main features, and
• what role do we play in our ecosystem.

Students were then divided into groups with a mix of language proficiency levels in each group. The group’s task was to evaluate 4 different displays: a piece of moldy bread, an aquarium, a bottle of nail polish, and a flowering plant with worms in it. Students were asked to identify biotic and abiotic factors in each system, keeping a record of their findings in a journal.

Students were next encouraged to use critical thinking skills as they brainstormed ideas on what it would take for those displays which did not represent an ecosystem to become an ecosystem. These ideas were also recorded in their journals and later discussed with the rest of the group. Day 1 was now over and students were asked to bring empty 2-liter bottles the next day to build their own ecosystem!!

When day 2 began, each group was given a small amount of gravel, sand and an aquatic plant. The first part of their assignment was to design a plan on how their ecosystem would work, including a simple sketch and a written explanation (remember the focus on language). The plans were submitted and approved by the teacher (so the teacher had a chance to focus on the language that was being used). Once the plans were approved, students began the construction of their ecosystem and at last were given a live fish to add to the bottle.


Students were assessed on their ability to construct an ecosystem that was a safe and successful environment for a live fish, their participation in group discussions and their journal writing, taking into consideration each student’s proficiency level. A final part of the assessment included another class discussion after the project was completed in which the students discussed and explained the role they play in their ecosystem. This science project provided a great opportunity not only to build language skills but also to discuss important environmental conservation and recycling topics.

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