How to integrate STEAM in English language classrooms


As a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer, Sarah Hillyard specializes in STEAM education in language learning. In this post she explains why an integrated approach is useful, and how to integrate STEAM with your day to day teaching. 

The world is integrated, so teaching should be too. No learning takes place in a vacuum. Instead, students should always be using their knowledge of the world to connect ideas. 

This is especially true when it comes to STEAM subjects – science, technology, engineering, art and design and maths. After all, the subjects are naturally connected. For instance, scientists rarely do anything purely scientific without at least a speck of engineering, technological tools, or creative design, just as composers don’t write music without thinking mathematically.

So why should you make an integrated approach to STEAM a priority in your language teaching? And how can you integrate STEAM across your curriculum?

The integrated STEAM approach

Most people understand how STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects are connected. But for students to develop STEM skills, we need to integrate these subjects with the arts – and vice versa. The arts is an umbrella term for things like dance, music, drama, movement, painting, drawing, crafting, sculpture, and design. 

And as we mentioned above, scientists, technology developers, engineers and mathematicians need to be creative to innovate. Artists also need to observe, hypothesise and experiment – which in many ways is similar to a scientific process. 

There are lots of benefits to creating connections across STEAM subjects and content areas in your curriculum. For example: 

  • Our brains are wired to make connections. When we connect two pieces of information in our brain, we are much more likely to understand, remember, and be able to apply this knowledge. So, combining subjects mimics real life and prepares the brain for a world in which knowledge is integrated. 
  • Work is transdisciplinary. Even if an individual chooses to become a scientist, there will most probably be a lot of maths in their job. Perhaps they will need engineering skills and creativity. They might have to use new technologies too. STEAM integration shows learners that whatever career they decide to follow, they will probably be working across disciplines. 
  • It helps build problem solving skills. For learners, using what they know in one area can help them to solve new problems and become successful in other areas. By discovering inter-relationships in school, learners discover how different areas interweave in the real world. And once they are used to seeing these connections, it is much easier for them to find connections themselves. 
  • Integrated learning makes school more interesting, relevant and meaningful. Studies have shown that it increases learners’ and teachers’ interest, motivation and enjoyment of school. 

How to integrate STEAM in your language classes

1. Connecting STEAM subjects

STEAM subjects should facilitate interdisciplinary learning and always go hand-in-hand. For example, if you’re teaching your learners about patterns in English, you could make connections between patterns in odd and even number sequences (maths) and patterns in sound waves (science). And you could bring in patterns in buildings (engineering), patterns used for coding (technology) and dance choreographies or abstract paintings (art). 

Find out how to plan a successful STEAM lesson

2. Connecting STEAM and language

Learning objectives are a good starting point to develop STEAM connections. For example, when teaching the topic of animals and their habitats, there are lots of STEAM connections you can make.

For example, you could ask students to build a habitat for an animal (engineering), decorate the habitat (art and design) and include what that animal needs to survive (science). 

You could then have students present their habitat creation to the rest of the class – practicing their English language presentation and speaking skills.

Depending on their proficiency level, learners can also learn language skills used by a range of STEAM professions. Take a scientist, for example. These language skills include listening to others and negotiating, reading and interpreting text or data, writing down hypotheses, labelling designs, recording data, sharing explanations, communicating ideas and solutions, and publishing results. 

3. Connecting STEAM and literature

You might decide to connect a STEAM challenge to a storybook you are reading in class. There are lots of books that develop creativity, thinking skills, critical thinking, and scientific thinking. 

For example, if you are reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar with your students, you can have them make the tiniest or biggest caterpillar they can out of different materials like bottle tops or egg cartons. 

This incorporates art and design, engineering and maths. Learners can retell the story or say what the caterpillar has eaten to explain why it has grown. You could also teach about the life cycle of caterpillars. You could even extend your teaching into other animals’ life cycles, which includes science. 

Read more about connecting stories and STEAM. 

4. Connecting STEAM and Project-based learning

Project-based learning (PBL) helps learners identify a problem, generate other questions to research, think of solutions and present their ideas. And this process helps them make connections among different areas. Sounds a lot like STEAM, doesn’t it? STEAM is all about discovery and problem solving. So, it’s a great match for project-based learning. 

Learn more

Creating STEAM integrations is all about making connections. And learners need connections to learn successfully. We are doing them a great disservice by fragmenting information and skills in school settings. Making connections in the real world is a natural part of learning – and that should be transferred to the language classroom. 

Webinar STEAM lesson Sara Hillyard

If you’d like to learn more about how to integrate STEAM in the classroom, Sarah is hosting a STEAM webinar on Wednesday 14th April. She’ll be giving practical tips on how to teach a successful STEAM lesson using a level 4 English Code lesson.

Sign up now!

Find more STEAM resources, including blogs, worksheets, posters, a podcast and more.

In this article