Thinking long and hard – ‘Action for Vocabulary Development’ Lesson Study #3

Thinking long and hard

What is the key to any successful project involving a team of people? As Lina Taweil and I proved again to ourselves, it is planning cooperatively. This week’s lesson study was a lesson to us both. The week before was busy with report writing, professional development and other important distractions. I was not aware of what was being done in class because I missed the crucial Wednesday lesson and did not have a chance to talk to Lina except via email and a brief 10 minutes at lunch time on the Friday.

Consequently, when Cindy Valdez-Adams (@TESOLoz) came in to observe the lesson on Monday morning, Lina and I were not on the same page. Lina was leading the lesson, I was hindering its flow, the students were unsure and some serious reflecting was needed.

What we needed was direction and Cindy was there to help us move forward. She spoke candidly about what she saw happen, the good and the bad and then shared her experiences with the work she had done with Jennifer Hammond, who had guided the Fairfield Public School teachers through a similar process of using Science as a vehicle for teaching language and vocabulary.

Before we could move forward we had to look at what we had done. This was our thinking:

At the end of this project we would like the students to be able to:

– define what composting is

– describe the process of composting

– explain why we need to compost

– use the scientific vocabulary (tier 3 words) to name the components and processes of composting.

– develop tier 2 words (noun groups and verb groups) that are needed to define, explain and describe the processes of composting explicitly.

 So far we have:

– identified vocabulary that we need before and during the learning

– explicitly taught vocabulary associated with composting

– taught the components of composting as well as the process of assembling the components of a compost bin.

– taught about the consumers in compost bin and looked specifically at snails and written an information report about snails using tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary

We are up to:

– teaching about worms because worm farming (vermicomposting) is also a form of composting vegetable scraps

Another way of composting – ‘vermicomposting’

 Now we need to tie all this together and think about:

– How is this fitting in with the Science outcomes?

– What Scientific processes are involved?

– Do we need to construct some experiments to observe or is the composting the experiment?

– How can we now consolidate the learning and use the tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary to help our students to ‘re-label’ their world using these words?

– Can the students apply their vocabulary learning to these experiments and their observations?

– When they are demonstrating, speaking or writing  … what will be the purpose and who will be their audience?

Scientific Outcomes from NSW K-10 Science Syllabus:

Stage 2 Stage 3
Values A student demonstrates a willingness to engage responsibly with local, national and global issues relevant to their lives and to shaping sustainable futures. STe-2VA A student demonstrates a willingness to engage responsibly with local, national and global issues relevant to their lives and to shaping sustainable futures. STe-2VA
Skills A student investigates their questions and predictions by analysing collected data, suggesting explanations for their findings, and communicating and reflecting on the processes undertaken


A student investigates by posing questions, including testable questions, making predictions and gathering data to draw evidence-based conclusions and develop explanations



& Content

A student identifies that adding or removing heat causes a change of state between solids and liquids



A student identifies the observable properties of solids, liquids and gases, and that changes made to materials are reversible or irreversible


As Cindy pointed out, what we now need to do is encourage the students to be thinking of themselves as scientists, as the experts. The students need to think about what scientists do, so they can think like scientists as they go through this project. The NSW K-10 Science syllabus talks about investigating by posing questions, including testable questions, making predictions and gathering data to draw evidence-based conclusions and develop explanations as they identify observable properties.

Cindy encouraged us to backward map, to think about the culminating rich task and how it was going to demonstrate our big question. So the team has had to go away and have a long hard think.

Now, our team doesn’t just consist of Lina and me. All along, the other stage 2/3 teacher, Sherlyn Shankar, has been planning this Science unit with Lina, and Sherlyn’s class is also sharing the lessons. So really, our team consists of Lina, Sherlyn, Cindy and me … but wait! Don’t forget the students, the most important members of the team, who are really excited about this learning. We are all one big team learning together. So how do we go about making this more of a team effort?

Lina and Sherlyn came up with the plan to have a Science expo. Here is the proposal:



BIG IDEA: For students to;

  • Define composting
  • Explain the processes involved in composting
  • Explain the impact composting has on the world

AUDIENCE: The executive team and Classes from Years 3-6 will be invited to attend a Science expo to gain knowledge on composting. They can expect hands-on learning experiences where they will rotate around different stations and learn interesting facts about different aspects of composting, delivered by their own very peers.

PROCESS: All students from 4/5 Tokyo and 4/5 Singapore will showcase their learning by hosting a ‘Science Expo’ on Composting. They will be ‘Scientists’ for the day and experts in the field of ‘Composting’. Students will be given the opportunity to be a part of one of the following groups:

  1. What is composting?
  2. How do we compost?
  3. Primary Consumers
  4. Secondary Consumers
  5. Tertiary Consumers
  6. Importance of composting on the world


There are around 55 students in total, students need to form a group of 6 from their class and decide on a group topic from the above six options, students can have the same topic. In their groups students must work together to decide on the following:

  • How to deliver their topic to the audience (games, activities, visuals)
  • Think about/rehearse what each person will be saying
  • Prepare resources needed to be on their table

Note: The audience will be split into equal groups of 6 and when they hear the bell (every 12mins) they must rotate in a clockwise direction. The purpose of this is so that all students view the stations and for it to be easier for the Scientists to present to smaller more controlled groups.

This will be the culminating rich task. Meanwhile, we need a question that will be the focus of all the students’ hypothesising, observing, predicting, explaining and concluding.

In the composting process there are changes happening to organic matter through the action of air, water, fungi, bacteria and primary consumers e.g. worms, snails, millipedes. Therefore composting fits with the knowledge and content component of changing states of matter  in the Science syllabus.

Composting is most successful when the conditions are just right. The students have two different types of compost bins to observe. One is doing better than the other at the moment and the students can observe and hypothesise from what they know as to why.

On Friday the students are following a procedure to set up a worm farm. There are guidelines that need to be followed for this to compost, vermicompost, properly.

Therefore our big question to guide our scientific thinking could be:What would happen if we did not follow the procedure and advice for setting up and caring for the worm farm? 


The students have frontloaded the information about worms, deconstructed an information report, completed cloze passages and played vocabulary games. They are now speaking knowledgeably about worms and their benefits to soil fertility. When we follow the procedure to establish the worm farm this week, they will be discussing and writing their hypotheses as to why each step has to be carried out the way it is.

Next Monday when Cindy comes in to watch our ‘team work’ we will be ready and eager to share the experience and the hypotheses using our explicitly taught vocabulary.

Using this text to guide our writing lessons






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