Students With Literacy Problems: How to Teach Science

When Children Don’t Grasp Concepts…

A science teacher provides instruction to students on the ways things in nature work. Usually instruction can be divided into life science,

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physical science and Earth science. Knowing the way students are best able to learn and what their prior knowledge is can allow you to provide lessons that will meet their needs most effectively. If a student has difficulty understanding information when it is given in print form, it will be necessary to provide it in a more meaningful way. Knowing how to teach science to students with literacy problems will involve knowing the student, making the information relatable and providing the material in a variety of ways.

Knowing Your Student

There are many types of literacy problems that can affect your students. It is important to know if it is an inability to read, comprehend or related to vision. Truly understanding what the difficulty is will allow you to provide appropriate accommodations. Some students benefit from adjustments to font or color that allows them to pick out words that are important to a lesson, while others truly find no meaning in the words that are presented to them. It is also necessary to know what level of comprehension the student has for vocabulary. Written materials might be able to supplemented with books on tapes or recordings, but if they are not able to understand the meaning of those, that will not be helpful. Gathering as much information about how your student learns and what strengths and weaknesses are being dealt with allow you to move forward in the best way possible.

What to Teach

States have educational guidelines which will dictate what subjects must be taught throughout the school year. When going through those standards, focus should be on making the information relate to the student's life and prior knowledge. This will allow them to rely less on written materials and more on memories made during your lessons. Another reason it is necessary to know your students is to have an idea of what their past science education was like so you have a starting point. For example, if you are discussing photosynthesis it will be necessary to know if your student understands the different parts of a plant and that they use the sun to make food. Otherwise, a lesson on photosynthesis will have little meaning. To make a similar lesson relatable, discussion on experience in taking care of plants and the potential for gardening.


Knowing your student and what you want to teach will make it easier to develop modifications for students with literacy problems. Avoiding lessons that depend on things likes worksheets and textbooks will be beneficial for the students to understand the information you are trying to convey. Scientific experiments, models and other hands on activities will all provide a better learning experience for all students involved, not just the ones with reading difficulties. When teaching about plants, use real plants. If learning about ecosystems and food chains, use the environment around you in order to explain the concepts. For times when written information is necessary, or other students are using it, providing modified visual information will be beneficial. For example, if other students are using written directions in order to perform an experience, students with reading problems could use directions in picture form.


When deciding how to teach science to students with literacy problems, it will be important to understand their overall educational goals. A student who is focusing on functional academics will need to work on different topics than students that will be focusing on academics throughout their school careers. Access to things like Individual Education Plans (IEPs) will provide information about what goals need to be considered.


Literacy Difficulties from

Ohio State Science Standards from the Ohio State Board of Education