English for science courses will help students who have passed the admissions test and are not quite ready to begin their courses in the scientific fields. Outside of the sheltered ESL and TOEFL classes, the demands are different.

Life outside of ESL presents a different set of challenges. As students remind us, "the skills that you need to pass TOEFL aren't the same skills you need in real life."

A practical approach to English for science has students exposed to both the target language and the target field by combining field experience with language learning. Besides language instruction, learners visit classrooms, laboratories and sites where English is used in a natural setting. This on-site component combines easily with an ESL core class of both language and content.

An ESL for science class should allow students to relate their language learning to the scientific subjects they are studying or will be studying.They connect with an academic discipline through the new language. As stated in the ACTFL National Standards: "Standard 3.1: Students reinforce and further their knowledge of other disciplines through the foreign language."

The core ESL class can be set up according to the subject area and number and level of students. Students will gain learning strategies in the core class that will help them understand material presented in the on-site component.

A scientific reading used in the core class can be enhanced by adding vocabulary, comprehension and structure exercises that restate the ideas of the unit. Planners should use materials that match academic subject the students will study.

Sample core activity

Lasers: based on Poole, K. (1990) "Lasers: The healing beams of light."

Summary of text: The author discusses eye surgery with lasers as a cure for glaucoma. In addition, she discusses other applications of laser surgery such as removing plaques from blood vessels and gall bladder removal.

Here are some sample exercises based on the content.

Vocabulary: Choose the correct word.

  1. Lasers can save lives. (take, save, keep, do )
  2. A laser ____ a light beam. (makes, cures, saves, can)
  3. Lasers _______ used in medicine. (is, are, can, work)
  4. Glaucoma is a/an ______ problem. (eye, ear, blood, operation)

A comprehension exercise can be done before or after the vocabulary practice. In this exercise, the students are tested on the main ideas of the passage, specific information and the meanings of specific words and phrases.

Comprehension: Choose the correct answers.

  1. Lasers are important in _______. (medicine, sight, school, reading)
  2. A laser makes a ________ beam. (sight, sound, light, heavy)
  3. A ______ laser is used to remove diseased tissue. (cutting, argon, sealing, color)
  4. A laser can destroy abnormal blood vessels. How? (It removes them, It heals them, It strengthens them, It stops them)
  5. Another title for this selection could be _____ (Eye Surgery, Lasers in Medicine, Easy Operations, Heart Disease)

The writer can review grammar by making up exercises based on the passage. Basic question formation is often a late acquired item and needs constant review.

Form questions: Follow the examples.

  1. Lasers are beams of light. Are lasers beams of light?
  2. Doctors use lasers. _____________________________?
  3. Glaucoma causes blindness. _____________________________?
  4. A laser beam produces light. _____________________________?
  5. Surgeons cure glaucoma. _____________________________ ?
  6. Some lasers are best for cutting. _____________________________ ?

Advanced exercises

Use the correct form of the verb. Some are active; others are passive.

When lasers first came (to come) upon the medical scene, they were used (to use) by doctors mainly in eye surgery. Now doctors _______ (to use) them in many types of operations. Cancer _________ (to treat) by laser. Also, laser operations can ______ (to cure) glaucoma and other eye problems. Diseased gall bladders can ________ (remove) by laser surgery. Soon these powerful beams of light will ______ (to help) cure heart disease. Plaques in blood vessels _______ (to cut) away by a laser.

A word study exercise can be made up the shows how new words can be built:

Fill in the blanks with the correct part of speech.

(cure, to cure, curable)

1. Is blindness curable? Yes, sometimes they can _____ it with treatment. They have found _____ for glaucoma.

(specialist, to specialize, special, especially)

2. He _______ in medicine. I am __________ tired today. A ________ laser can do surgery. That doctor is a ___________.

The suggested exercises are in the context of the lesson topic (lasers), which makes them more meaningful than mere sets of drills that are not connected.

Such instruction, which aims to link linguistic forms with the meanings they convey by treating them in meaningful contexts, is exactly the kind of instruction that many researchers have advocated and found to be effective.

The on-site component

In the on-site component, students transfer their skills from one set of materials to another set, which is the authentic scientific material. Learning goes beyond the core class.

An engineer explaining an auxiliary power supply or a chemist describing a reaction will use real discourse in a real situation, and the students will learn both content and language. The literature indicates that language learning is closely tied to learner interaction:

Research on classroom discourse, when based on the sociocultural view of language learning, also suggests that learning to be a proficient FL speaker is fundamentally tied to the interactional activities in the classroom into which learners are socialized, according to Joshua Thoms.


Both the core ESL class and the on-site component complement each other and help the learners build skills on what they know of both the targeted scientific field and the English language. Each new topic is introduced in a scientific context using real situations that build on what the students know and encourage them to seek additional knowledge.