Forests, Deserts & Grasslands

Forests, Deserts & Grasslands

by Monica Schnee

Familiarize your ELLs with specific content and vocabulary related to biomes and ecosystems. Help them make connections to previous learning and draw from their background knowledge.

English Language Learners (ELLs) are taught this science unit on ecosystems and biomes during their ESL instruction. The students are third graders of mixed ability coming from a variety of language backgrounds. Instruction is focused on cross-content language development. In this case, links are made between science, social studies and literature. This class meets everyday for 40 minutes.

Unit Overview

The objective of this unit is to pre-teach and reinforce science and social studies curricula. Students become familiarized with specific content and vocabulary related to biomes and ecosystems. They use higher order thinking skills to make connections with the unit previously taught which was communities and interdependence. The cross-curricular approach reinforces language, utilizes sheltered instruction strategies and functions as scaffolding for the mainstream classroom.

Content goals are based on the TESOL ESL Standards mentioned below to acquire and understand concepts and language used in the mainstream classroom: biomes, ecosystems, weather, animals and to use map skills to identify where these ecosystems are.

Student Activities

Learning strategies

A variety of activities are used to instruct students in language and content. The activities incorporate skills that increase in complexity according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. General vocabulary and concepts are introduced at the beginning of the unit. Specific vocabulary for each ecosystem: desert, forest, grassland/prairie is incorporated throughout.


Assessment is ongoing and performance-based. Through class participation, observations, daily debriefings and completion of tasks each student is assessed. Meetings with classroom teachers and observations in their own classrooms also serve to assess students’ progress.

TESOL's ESL Standards for Pre-K-12 Students

Goal 1 (Social)

Goal 2.1 (Academic)

Goal 2.2

Goal 2.3

Related Links

Resource Picks

Biomes of the World
This website takes students into the different biomes of the world. Explore rainforest, temperate dediduous forests, tundras, grasslands and taigas. Investigate freshwater and marine ecosystems. This site makes a good addition to science units on these topics.

About the Author

Monica Schnee currently teaches adults at both a local community school and a community college. She is the creator and director of ESL Parent Connection which offers workshops to schools to improve communication with the ESL parent community.