English language learners’ participation in the discourse of a multilingual science classroom

Shu Wen Lan, Luciana C. de Oliveira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Recent science-education reforms have targeted students’ ability to ‘talk science’, especially in science classrooms. Prior research has shown that participation in scientific discourse in class is one of the most challenging scientific-literacy tasks, and particularly complex for English language learners (ELLs) at the upper elementary level. The present study explores this issue in a fourth-grade science classroom in the United States in which students from various linguistic and cultural backgrounds were studying together. Specifically, it analyzes the case of a focal Asian-background ELL who encountered challenges in her attempts to respond to the teacher’s questions and participate in the classroom academic discourse on earth science. Our analysis indicated that this ELL was unaware of the teacher’s expectations regarding the intertextual connections and academic language required to successfully accomplish science tasks. The ELL’s unexpected responses exposed a complex set of academic and social issues–notably, gaps between the teacher’s, students’, and ELL’s own expectations about language participation–that could have contributed to her supposed behavioural problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1246-1270
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jun 13 2019


  • English language learners
  • Multilingual classrooms
  • classroom discourse
  • elementary school science
  • intertextual analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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