5 steps to planning a successful STEAM lesson

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STEAM lesson in action

Sarah Hillyard has been a teacher and coordinator at pre-primary level and is now an ELT consultant for bilingual schools in Argentina. As a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer she specializes in STEAM education in language learning. In this series of articles, she explains what STEAM is and gives lots of practical ideas for the classroom. In today’s post, Sarah shows us how to plan a STEAM lesson using examples from Pearson’s new pre-primary course English Code

Find out more about STEAM on our experiences page or read our previous article: 5 STEAM myths debunked

In this lesson plan, you’ll discover how a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) challenge can be adapted to exploit language learning at the same time.

Topic: Toy-related vocabulary 

STEAM challenge: make a ramp that a toy car can travel on for 20 inches (or approximately 50 cm)

Step 1: Introduce and demonstrate

First, ask learners to identify ramps around the classroom. They should point and shout out, “A ramp!” Note that ramps could simply be a piece of cardboard against a wall or a book slanted against a bookshelf, for example. 

Next, introduce the challenge and write it on the board: “Can you make a ramp for a toy car to travel 20 inches?” (50 cm approx.).

Draw a simple sketch of a ramp on the board. Show a toy car, masking tape and a ruler. Use the ruler to mark inches/centimeters on a strip of masking tape to make a “measuring tape”. 

Explain that you are going to make a prediction:

  • Ask the students, “How far do you think this toy car will travel?”
  • Say, “I think the toy car will travel (15) inches.” 

Find number 15 on the masking tape and place a post-it note next to it to mark your prediction. Say that you would then test and place a new post-it note with the word RESULT on it where the toy car has stopped. 

Your instructions need to be comprehensible, but still use STEAM words (e.g. prediction, test, result). 

Use short and simple sentences with younger learners as well as visuals, realia and demonstrations. While you do this, introduce the new language and pre-teach key vocabulary:

  • Theme vocabulary: toy car, wheels, other toy vocabulary
  • Specific vocabulary: ramp, roll/slide, travel, inches
  • Numbers (e.g. 20 inches) 

Show the materials and mention their names: 

  • Toy cars (and other toys: balls, teddy bears, rubber ducks)
  • Masking tape
  • Rulers
  • Post-it notes
  • Pens or markers
  • Tablet or digital camera
  • Thick cardboard, thin wooden planks, long building blocks, books, boxes (or anything available in the classroom)

Step 2: Predict / Plan

Take some toy cars around the school on a “ramp hunt”. Your students might want to explore the playground slide, seesaw, wheelchair ramp, a book slanted against a bookshelf, banisters, etc.

If possible, learners should take photographs with a tablet or digital camera. Back in class, observe the following questions:

  • How are the ramps the same/different? 
  • What makes a ramp a ramp? 

Your learners will discover that to make a ramp they will need something to hold it up at one end. 

Learners should then draw a sketch of their ramp. Monitor and ask questions. For example: 

  • How many books are you going to use for the base of your ramp? 
  • Will it be high or low? 

You can include some reading practice in your activity by having learners read about the topic. 

Step 3: Explore / Create 

Have learners build their ramps and make their “measuring tapes” in groups. 

They should predict how far the toy car will travel, find the number and place a post-it note next to the measuring strip – just as you did in the demonstration. 

Write an example sentence on the board as a reminder to encourage learners to use the language: “I think it will travel (10) inches” or just “(10) inches” (25 cm),  if they are younger learners. 

Step 4: Record

Learners should then test and record their results using new Post-It notes. Groups should modify their ramp until the car travels 20 inches. 

Walk around monitoring and ask questions to prompt deeper explorations and thinking strategies:

  • How can you modify the ramp for the toy car to go farther?
  • What happens if you make the base higher/lower?
  • How did you know that would work?

Step 5: Present / Reflect

Have learners present and compare their ramps to discover how they are different. Ask questions and elicit answers such as:   

  • What did you use to make your ramp? “We used… cardboard and books”
  • How many times did you have to modify your ramp for the car to travel 20 inches? “We tried many times.”
  • Is it similar or different to your sketch? “Different: it is higher.” 
  • How did you make it better? “We used different materials and made the ramp higher.” 

Take time to evaluate the activity with your learners. Depending on age and language level, you might expect learners to answer using longer and more complete answers or only giving yes/no answers.

  • Was it easy or hard? 
  • What did you like/not like about the challenge? 
  • What did you learn about the concepts/process behind the challenge? (e.g. higher makes it… travel farther/go faster).  
  • Did you use the target language? 
  • Did you work well in their groups? 

Extension:

Have groups rotate to a ramp built by another group to try the experiment with other toys. Encourage them to name the toys. 

Ask, “Does it travel as far, why/why not?”; “Does it roll/slide down the ramp?” 

This will prompt further exploration about the material objects are made of (e.g. a rubber duckie), their shape (e.g. a building block) and properties of objects (e.g. wheels). 

We hope these steps will help you plan an engaging STEAM lesson for your students. Stay tuned for the next blog in the series – integrating STEAM and stories. 

Learn more about STEAM by downloading this practical pocket guide.  

About English Code

STEAM lesson with English code

English Code is a 7-level course for 7-12 year olds, offering 5 hours or more of English study per week. Available in both American English and British English versions, it promotes hands-on creative learning, investigation, fun projects, and experiments. 

With a syllabus that incorporates STEAM learning, children develop a coding mindset, learn how to solve problems and work on their collaborative skills. Core functional language is at the forefront, giving students the vocabulary and tools they need to become confident speakers of English inside and outside the classroom.

Learn more about English Code or download a sample now!

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