Did you know teaching science is a great way to teach Spanish?
Learning is always more meaningful when it is acquired within context, and science lessons give you exactly that.
And if you are teaching young children, bringing science into Spanish class is guaranteed to give you their undivided attention.
Of course, you will have to make it fun, but no worries! That’s what I’m here for.
While teaching Spanish and science together can work for any age group, it can be especially beneficial for children. This is because many of the concepts learned in basic science sync up with their development and general education, and can easily sync up with second language studies as well.
Children are scientists by nature; they observe, explore and question their surroundings. This is how they naturally learn.
As teachers, we should take advantage of that, use their ability to be amazed and motivate them to explore. And what better way to do that than with hands-on experiments? Let’s free the budding scientists in them, and teach them Spanish at the same time!
The Importance of Science Lessons for Children Learning a Second Language
Children develop new ideas through a reasoning process based on accumulated experiences. Thought and language develop simultaneously with—but not independently of—experience.
Teaching science to children improves their logic and reasoning skills. It encourages observation, investigation, questioning, information analysis, experimentation, representation and communication of the acquired knowledge.
As a result, they will learn new concepts, ask questions, find solutions, solve problems and construct explanations—and they can learn how to do this all in Spanish.
Here are three phenomenal science lessons for kids that you can incorporate in your Spanish class any time you like.
3 Phenomenal Hands-on Spanish Science Lessons for Kids
Many of these activities require material that you can usually find in a kindergarten (or elementary school) setting. Just make sure, if you are making use of a different classroom, that the classroom teacher has no problem lending it to you and having it ready before your class starts.
In return, make sure you return her/him the classroom tidy and neat by taking the necessary steps to start cleaning up on time. Children are a true challenge, but they can easily be taught to tidy up. Here is a song that you can sing with your younger learners while doing so. Soon enough it will become an immediate cue for them to clean up.
Lesson 1: Las plantas (The plants)
In this lesson, you are going to teach your students about the parts of plants.
Preparations and things you will need:
- Magnifying glasses and flashlights
- Parts of plants (bring plenty and bring variety)
- A sorting worksheet with columns
- Coloring material of your choice, glue
Sit your students in a circle so everybody can see what you are going to show them. I always recommend doing the warm up in a circle so it is more intimate and you capture everybody’s attention.
Now you can show them a plant and the parts that constitute it: raíz (root), tallo (stem), hojas (leaves) and flores (flowers). Show them each part, illuminating it with the flashlight and a magnifying glass so they can see more details.
Have three cups ready: one for the stems, one for the leaves and one for the petals. If your students are already recognizing words, label each cup with the corresponding word—if not, label them with pictures.
Then give some stems, leaves and petals to your students and ask them to put them in the cup where they belong.
Prepare a worksheet with three columns (tallos, hojas, pétalos) and ask your students to draw (or paste) stems, leaves and petals onto it.
This activity will only reinforce what you taught them during the lesson. Most of your lesson actually happened during the warm up. Just make sure you ask plenty of questions to make them repeat what you just told them. Especially with young children, repetition equals success.
For example, after you tell them that las plantas toman agua por las raíces (plants drink water through the roots), reinforce it:
¿Por dónde toman agua las plantas? (Through where do plants drink water?)
Por las raíces. (Through the roots.)
Si, las plantas toman agua por las raíces. (Yes, plants drink water through the roots.)
Just observing parts of the plants brings up so much language you can practice. Just remember that it is all about repetition and simplicity, so don’t give too many (or too complicated) explanations.
Here are some simple explanatory sentences you can use:
- Las plantas son seres vivos. (Plants are living beings.)
- Las plantas necesitan agua, sol y aire para vivir. (Plants need water, sun and air to survive.)
- Las plantas toman agua por las raíces. (Plants drink water through their roots.)
- Las hojas tienen diferentes formas. (Leaves have different shapes.)
Let your students tell you what shape the leaves have, and what they look like. They will probably do it in their native language, but then have them repeat it in Spanish. It is great to hear how they see the world.
- Las hojas son verdes, pero cuando se secan se ponen cafés. (Leaves are green, but when they dry they turn brown.)
Bring examples of dry leaves so you can show them what “dry” looks like for leaves.
- Las flores tienen pétalos. (Flowers have petals.)
You can practice colors (bring a variety), numbers (count how many petals or leaves the flowers have), shapes, sizes, etc.
Homework: Ask your students to do a nature hunt and collect as many parts of plants as they can find. Have them sort the plants out by part, by color or by shape. In the following class, take 10 minutes to review their homework with them, asking a lot of simple questions.
- Always have an exploring station ready to entertain students who have already finished their tasks. For this lesson, you can simply call it el rincón de las plantas (the plant corner). Leave enough material here for them to explore on their own.
- Don’t forget the flashlights and the magnifying glasses!
- If you want to add an artistic touch, leave paper and wax crayons for them to do some leaf printing. They will love it. Here is a link for this activity.
Note: I didn’t include the roots in the sorting or pasting activities above, because you don’t want to accidentally teach your young students to go around pulling up plants to find their roots.
Lesson 2: ¿Flota o se hunde? (Float or sink?)
In this lesson, you are going to teach students the concepts of ligero (light) and pesado (heavy) and how weight contributes to objects floating or sinking.
Preparations and things you will need:
- Various objects of different weights. For example: nut shells, bottle caps, small pieces of wood, twigs, leaves, balls, toy cars, rocks, etc.
- Containers in which you can demonstrate whether the objects float or sink
- Hanger that acts as a weighing scale (see warm up activity)
The first concepts you will introduce are pesado and ligero. First, show the students an object that is heavy and act like you cannot carry it. Tell them, “Esto es muy pesado” (This is very heavy). Then do the same for a light object, but carrying it in such a way as to demonstrate its lightness.
Then take two objects and ask them “¿Cuál es más pesado?” (Which one is heavier?), and see if they know. To measure the weight of the objects, you can play a game with them in which they will place several objects on a homemade scale. Here is a link to instructions for this activity.
Now you are going to demonstrate putting some objects in the water to see which ones sink and which ones float. Set up a station with one big container (or several small ones) filled with water and let them experiment with any object they like.
Give them two pieces of paper, one that says objetos que flotan (objects that float) and another one that says objetos que se hunden (objects that sink). The point is for them to record their findings. They can do this with drawings or with a combination of drawings and written words (if you choose to teach them the names of objects ahead of time, or if they are already at a stage where they should know them). Just make sure you encourage speaking from them.
With this lesson, you can do comparisons between the objects that are heavier or lighter. You can also practice the future tense if you prefer to predict which objects will float or will sink. And then past tense to review their predictions.
- [Esto] pesa más que [esto]. ([This] is heavier than [this].)
Substitute “this” with whatever object you gave them or they chose.
- [Esto] es más ligero que [esto]. ([This] is lighter than [this].)
- ¿Cuál es más pesado? (Which one is heavier?)
- ¿Cuál es más ligero? (Which one is lighter?)
- ¿Crees que [esto] se va a hundir o va a flotar? (Do you think [this] will sink or will float?)
- ¿[Esto] se hundió o flotó? (Did [this] sink or float?)
Homework: Ask students to experiment at home with more objects of their choice and to record them on a separate sheet of paper. They can record with drawings, cut-outs from magazines or by writing the proper word. Either way, encourage them to find out the Spanish names of the objects they chose.
- If you are taking over the classroom you are using from a previous teacher, ask the other teacher to have the students ready with their aprons on before your class starts. This will save you a lot of time.
- Keep an eye on your students all the time when they are playing with water and make sure they have their sleeves up. Playing with water is super fun, but it can easily get out of control!
Note: Even though weight isn’t the main reason why objects sink or float, for young children in a second language class, you probably don’t need to talk about density.
Lesson 3: El viento (The wind)
In this lesson, you are going to teach your students about strong and calm winds, and how objects can be blown by them. You will exemplify this with the story of “The Three Little Pigs.”
Preparations and things you will need:
- Story of “Los Tres Cochinitos” (“The Three Little Pigs”)
- Different light and heavy objects to blow away, such as cotton balls, small toys, etc.
- “Building” material such as straws, twigs, rocks (or whatever you want to substitute)
- Optional: a fan
First, tell the story of “Los Tres Cochinitos.” Ask your students why they think the big bad wolf was able to blow down the first two houses, but not the one made of bricks.
Two sets of concepts may appear here: strong vs. calm (for the wind) and light vs. heavy (for the objects and materials).
Check out this link for a great Science Storytime activity with “The Three Little Pigs.” You are basically going to build houses with three different materials and try to blow them down. This will show why some materials are harder to move with wind.
First, you will ask students to build the house of straw. In the activity in the link, it suggests using plastic straws and explaining the difference to them. But it would be even better if you could manage to find some real straw or hay. Make sure you ask them if the straw is heavy or light. Once they build the house, they will try to blow it down.
You will do the same for the wooden house and for the brick one. The activity suggests you use wooden pencils for the wooden houses and little tiles for the brick one. You can try to find some twigs or small branches for the wooden house, although the pencils can do the trick. Either way, they will notice the wood is heavier than the straw and therefore harder to blow down.
As for the brick house, the problem I see with the little tiles is that they may seem too light to be an effective comparison. See if you can find some rocks or stones for this. And if you manage to bring at least one real brick so they can see it, feel it and understand its weight, that will be a definite plus!
Once you finish this activity, tell your students more about wind and how strong winds can blow down some objects. Maybe you can even use a video to show them strong winds in action, like this one.
If you have the chance to bring a fan to your class, use it as a live example of wind moving things. They will love to see this in action!
There is a lot of language you can practice with this activity, from the comparison of light and heavy objects to weather vocabulary.
- ¿Cuál material es más ligero [o más pesado]? (Which material is lighter [or heavier]?)
- ¿Qué pasa si soplamos suavecito? (What happens if we blow softly?)
- ¿Qué pasa si soplamos fuerte? (What happens if we blow strong?)
- El viento puede mover los objetos. (Wind can move objects.)
- Un viento ligero puede mover objetos ligeros. (Calm winds can move light objects.)
- Un viento fuerte puede mover objetos ligeros y objetos pesados. (Strong winds can move light and heavy objects.)
Homework: Ask your students to make a picture of the wind in action, or of what one of the houses of the three little pigs looked like after the wolf tried to blow them down.
- Try to plan this activity for a windy day so you can show them the real power of wind, especially if you couldn’t bring a fan.
- You can set up an exploring station with straws and different objects to try to blow away.
Note: It is better if you do this activity once students are already familiar with the concepts of “light” and “heavy.”
So, now you have three phenomenal science lessons that will make your classes super fun for your kids.
You will be teaching them so much Spanish through science that they won’t even feel they are in a language class. They will just be applying the language in real-time situations and that will make it stick for sure.
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