Using Visual Literacy to Teach Science Academic Language: Experiences from Three Preservice Teachers

Jun. 25, 2014

Source: Action in Teacher Education, Volume 36, Issue 3, p. 192–210, 2014.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study was based on an action research project that took place during a science methods course and field experience of three preservice teachers.
The focus of this study was to capture preservice teachers’ experiences using visual literacy strategies to teach science academic language to ELLs.

This research evolved an undergraduate science methods course for early childhood majors at a large public university in the southeastern region of the United States.
As part of the design of the teacher education program, preservice teachers enroll in four methods courses (mathematics, social studies, science, and reading/writing/literacy) as a cohort during their senior year.
This study stems from an action research project that was conducted during the science methods course of the ELL cohort.

The participants were three students selected from the ELL cohort, who agreed to participate in the visual literacy study.
The teachers were middle-class, White females between ages 22 and 44 from the southeastern region of the United States.
Data was collected through questionnaires, lesson plans and Interview questions.


Data revealed that preservice teachers recognized the significance and benefits of utilizing visual literacy as a method to teaching science academic language to ELLs.
Results indicated that students employed self-discovery of academic language, knowledge of academic language, and the contextual use of academic language.

Data show how students were able to connect terms like light source, shadows, radiation, evaporation, animals, like/different to pictures of physical and chemical changes found in magazines, aquatic animals from their trip to the aquarium, and shadows around the school. Each teacher mentioned that discussions and writing assignments were designed to make the activity more meaningful and link familiar experiences to the concept.
Furthermore, each preservice teacher agreed that the visual literacy strategy was an effective approach to teaching science academic language to ELLs.
The teachers commented on the lack of resources )individual cameras) that would have made the activity more personable and engaging as well as the students’ unfamiliarity of using cameras.
Nevertheless, each mentioned they would use the strategy in the future.

In the study, students identified shadows and light sources as well as recognized similarities and differences between aquatic animals.
The findings suggest that even though there were some limitations to incorporating visual literacy strategies into the science classroom, preservice teachers find the approach helpful to teaching academic language to ELLs.
Along similar lines, teachers of this study appeared to be motivated and eager to use the strategy again in the future.


The findings of this study have significant implications for practice.
Teacher preparation programs need to place a greater emphasis on diversity especially with the growing population of ELLs, especially as it related to science instruction.
Demonstrating effective strategies to teach ELLs science would reduce the number of well-meaning but inadequately prepared teachers from sabotaging their own efforts by error. Subsequently, ELLs would experience more meaningful instruction in general. Pre service teachers should be provided with the necessary tools to teach all students effectively.

One recommendation for teacher preparation faculty would be to create opportunities for preservice teachers to develop or use visual literacy strategies in content area learning and understanding during their field placement classrooms.

Updated: May. 05, 2015