Here in North Carolina, middle school students who are English learners are mainstreamed into science and social studies classes, regardless of their levels of fluency with their second language.
That can be challenging because (1). middle school science and social studies classes are text and vocabulary heavy settings, (2). middle school science and social studies teachers rarely have any formal training in how to best support students who are learning English as their second language and (3). districts rarely have the funds to provide content materials in more than one language.
I wrestled with that challenge in my eighth grade science classroom this week.
We are in the middle of a study of the four common pathogens that cause diseases in humans. I wanted my students to do some quick research using WebMD to learn more about the causes of strep throat, malaria, athlete’s foot and the flu. There was nothing particularly complicated about the task — but the WebMD pages that my students were exploring were all in English and I have a few students who are more comfortable working with content-specific text in Spanish — the first language that they learned.
The good news is that Google Translate — one of the most popular translation tools on the Web — can also translate entire web pages for users.
If you have any English learners in your classroom, be sure to show them this simple trick to translating web based content into their first language. Doing so will help to ensure that they can interact with complex content and vocabulary in both their first language and their second language.