Visual Arts and Science Vocabulary

Alison Acquaviva

Why Visual arts and Science?

I chose to do my action research project on the effect of visual arts strategies on an ELL students Science Vocabulary knowledge and usage. For this project, I taught two of our second grade Science units using as much visual arts strategies as I could. One unit was on Force and Motion and the other unit was on States of Matter.

The reason I chose this for my project is that I work in a school that is majority Hispanic and majority ESOL. This population of students makes it difficult sometimes to teach content and academic vocabulary, especially in the Science curriculum. There is a lot of research out there about best practices for instructing ESOL students; as well as the benefits of using ARTS based strategies in the classroom. For this reason, I wanted to see the affects that visual arts, a component of ARTS based learning, would have on the students overall vocabulary knowledge and usage,

Some Visual Arts Strategies Used in this Study:

Picture Books

Photostory on the Ipads

Collage of pictures from the magazines

Cartoon drawings

The painting "Ballerinas" by Edgar Degas/student created Ballerinas.

Picture cards and Picture sorts

Vocabulary picture journal

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❝If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.❞ ‒Nelson Mandela


This study was conducted at an Elementary School in Hall County Georgia. The population for this study came from my self-contained EIP second grade classroom where I have 15 students. The design was a mixed-methods approach that occurred over 5 weeks. Qualitative methods were used to compare the students' assessment scores before and after the units were taught. Also, anecdotal notes were taken to document the students use of the vocabulary terms throughout the units. Qualitative methods were used to determine the class and individual averages on the initial and final assessments. After calculating the averages, data was analyzed for sub-groups of students, and was used to determine if there was an improvement in the ELL students overall Science vocabulary knowledge.

Data Results

The students were assessed using the same initial and post assessment. On the assessment, they had to write the vocabulary word in the box and draw a picture to show to definition of the word.

After analyzing all of the data, there is significant evidence to support that the visual arts strategies did improve to ELL students overall Science vocabulary knowledge. The data on the class averages from the initial and post assessments show that the class improved from a score of 38 percent on the initial assessment to a score of 87 percent on the post assessment.

When looking at a sub-group comparing the ELL students to the non-ELL students, I was limited in that I only have two non-ELL students in my class. I chose to randomly choose two ELL students that had the same initial assessment score to analyze next to the two non-ELL students. The results showed that both subgroups received a 100 percent on the final assessment; which is a great improvement from the 10 percent and 20 percent that the groups received on the initial assessment.

Finally, I analyzed two individual students that are at very different levels of English Proficiency. I chose to compare my newcomer student to my more proficient ELL student. My newcomer has only been in the U.S for less than 2 years and my more proficient student is almost tested out of ESOL. Both students received an initial score of 20 percent and both improved to a 100 percent on the final assessment.

When looking at how often the students

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The results show that using visual art strategies to teach the science vocabulary did have an impact on the ELL students’ knowledge of the terms. The results appear to show that the correlation between the visual arts strategies and science content vocabulary knowledge was positive. All of the students improved their scores on the initial and final assessments, and the ELL students showed a growth that was just as high as the non-ELL students. Since the data collection methods were the same for all students, it shows that the impact of the visual arts strategies for the students was equal. Therefore, the benefit to using the visual arts strategies was no greater to the ELL students than to the non-ELL students, since both scores improved greatly.

"Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone."-Albert Einstein


  • I was only given access to a very limited sample of students. Being that the size was small and the students were all classified as EIP, there was not much diversity within the students chosen for this study.
  • This study was done over 4-5 weeks. With the pressures and stresses of the education system and trying to fit everything in, science and social studies time has been limited in the elementary classroom. Conducting this study required the continued daily instruction in science and thus resulted in a block of only a few weeks that could be marked off to complete the study.
  • The unforeseen inclement weather that occurred between the two units. The students completing this study ended up missing close to two weeks of school due to an ice and snow storm that occurred during that time. While this did not negatively impact the results of the study, it does speak to the state of mind that some of the students were in when working on the unit and completing the post assessment.