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Using Sentence Starters to Teach Students to Talk Like Scientists

Elementary school students working on language arts sequencing activity
Using Sentence Starters to Teach Students to Talk Like Scientists

Maria Grant, Professor of Secondary Education at California State University, shares this idea for illustrating for students the difference between scientific language and the kind of words we use outside of class.

Terms like “hypothesize” or “variable” are academic terms we use in science, but may not be as common in normal conversation. Explaining the difference between “school talk” and “playground talk,” Grant asks students to discuss some data they’ve gathered. In a unit about animals, the data collection could include a survey of the different pets students have at home and/or wild animals seen in the neighborhood.

She gives them the sentence starter, “When I look at the data, I notice…”, and asks them to speak and then write about the survey results. For example, one student may observe that only two classmates’ animals have scales, while another may notice, “When I look at the data, I see that everyone has animals around their house, but not everyone has pets.”

Grant says this approach gives students the opportunity to use what they’re learning: “If you just tell them what language to use, but don’t allow them to practice using it, the connection to their own experience is weaker. A huge piece of learning is letting them practice,” she says.

You can read more about Maria Grant’s approach to science literacy here.

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