Teaching subject in English – a challenge or a new opportunity?

Written by: Magdalena Tsavkova, Krassimira Chakarova
American College of Sofia

There is no question that speaking a foreign language today is a necessity and in particular English immerged in our schools not only as a separate language discipline. The number of subjects thought in English constantly increases thus giving the teachers the opportunity to explore this new challenge. Through content learning students broaden their vocabulary, their performance and confidence increases, and they have the chance to be competitive on international exams, like SATs, for example. On the other hand a subject thought in English hides some problems – explanations of concepts are not always meaningful for students and their performance on native competitions, like Olympiads, could be affected. The main concern is the teacher and students proficiency in English – to what extent the foreign language affects the interaction between learners and instructors in the classroom? We think that the professional development of those teachers is very important and we would like to mention the positive influence of “Science Across the World” project in Bulgaria and the magazine FACT (Forum for Across the Curriculum teaching) and the establishment of Special Interest Group (SIG) within IATEFL.

In this article we would like to present some classroom activities that combine language with content learning we use in our school. The American College of Sofia has established a long-time tradition of teaching all academic subjects in English. Plunging students in a 100% English language environment encourages and requires their continuous improvement of understanding and communication skills. We are aware of the difficulties, which our students meet, especially after their first preparatory year at the College. To make the transition to higher-grade level smooth in the last three years we introduced a one-semester science course in grade eight. The purpose of the course is not so much to teach specific knowledge but rather introduce some basic vocabulary and lab skills. Our experience shows that students in the prep year enjoy this course and benefit a lot from it – they come more motivated and enthusiastic to study science. Here is a short course syllabus:

Science in the preparatory class

  • Subject matter of science
  • Working in the science lab
  • Separations lab
  • Density lab
  • Physical properties of matter
  • Chemical change
  • Pigments lab
  • Flower dissection. Plant parts lab
  • Tree observation
  • Snow study
  • Science in the news
  • Science projects

Another approach for ensuring science success is establishing standard criteria for assessment. In the students’ handbook and College web site http://www.acs.bg/ this information can be found.

We would like to recommend the web site http://www.beyonddiscovery.org/, which is a wonderful resource for various topics in a format suitable to be used both in science and English language classes.

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Making memorizing easy and fun

Memorizing can’t be avoided in our classes but here are some examples of how it can be made fun for students:

  • Sentence construction activity: Students are divided into groups. Each group receives an envelope with pieces of sentences (the teacher needs to type and cut the sentences in advance) The group of students which first arranges all the sentences correctly is the winner. This activity could be applied for learning definitions, rules or even lows and formulas.
  • The omega competition: Another example of a fun activity is to make students apply their knowledge in creating or “reading” drawings which combine a symbol or a formula with a picture and presents an idiomatic phrase or expression widely used. The W symbol stands for the unit which measures resistance in physics. It is pronounced “ohm” and can be involved in the following ways:ΩC6H12O which is literally “ohm” the formula of glucose “ohm” and because of the sweet taste of glucose should be read as: “Ohm sweet Ohm!” evidently corresponding to the expression “Home, sweet home!”

    Or, what is this? Ω = F.d Of course, for everybody who knows the definition of mechanical work it is “Ohm = work”. Simply it stands for” Homework”.

Such activities can not only make learning and memorizing easier but also give a break for students who face difficulties with the applying science concepts.

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