Science Done in English


The following is a textbook I wrote for a tenth grade English class in Japan. My students are planning to study abroad in eleventh grade. Next year at their host schools, they'll attend classes in English that may make use of technical terms they've never seen. This book, and the course that makes use of it, are part of an attempt to ease this transition.

A good way to learn to do science in English is to do science in English. When students are doing things, they are engaged, and that is when learning occurs. This book has four parts: biology, physics, earth science, and the environment. I have tried to select topics that don't require any specific background knowledge. The pieces are independent. Take whatever looks best for you and forget about the rest.

I started writing this book in the summer of 2015 for use in the fall of that year. It has been updated many times.


Science Done in English

This is the teacher's manual for the science & ESL textbook Science Done in English. Much of the material in the textbook is task-based, and you can tell how to use it just by looking at the book. In other cases, some background is useful. If you aren't familiar with these branches of science, don't be intimidated. Although some review may be required if you haven't studied something since you were in high school, suppose, nothing here is particularly tricky or overly complicated. Indeed, if a topic is too difficult for the teacher to understand, students with a limited grasp of the English language would have an even worse time. On the other hand, it's fine if some topics here are fairly challenging for students. The vocabulary alone will pose difficulties for ESL learners, but by listening to and using the vocabulary in context, students will become accustomed to it.

A teacher who has little background in the sciences, or in some of these branches of the sciences, might want to brush up on some of these subjects prior to teaching them. I have found two books considerably educational: The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson and The Character of Physical Law by Richard P. Feynman. Both books are accessible to those with a high school education. Wikipedia is a valuable resource, as well. The material in these books vastly exceeds what is covered this short textbook and makes for interesting discussion material if there is extra time in class. Another way we can offset the potential inexperience of the teacher is by showing videos. There are many great freely-licensed short video clips out there. If you look hard, you can find videos where the English is at a level suitable for your students. Using these clips, students can hear the explanation of an expert. If your explanation was unclear, that's no matter — they get a second opportunity to listen, and this time to a trained scientist.

Many people helped proofread and edit this book: Marjorie Carlson, Dexter Perkins, James Copulos, and several others. Of course, my old students helped a great deal; seeing what confused them in earlier versions helped guide later revisions.

Table of Contents


The files here are all connected with the science textbook, Science Done in English, written by Douglas Perkins. The textbook and associated files that I've produced are all under the license as noted below. In a few cases, snippets of externally-copyrighted work are included. These are labeled as such. This information is brief, limited in scope, non-commercial, and included for nonprofit educational purposes. As such, its inclusion is fair use.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Part I: Biology

Chapter 1: Life

There are two main topics here. The first topic is classification of creatures. Students should learn how to use words like invertebrate and warm-blooded to describe animals. The second topic is biodiversity. Although we only touch briefly on the topic here, it is desirable if by the end of the chapter students can talk a little about species, what kinds of organisms are numerous in number, and some of the benefits of biodiversity. It may surprise the reader to know that we don't know how many species there are in the world, and we can't even pin it down to an order of magnitude.

Chapter 2: Animals

This chapter is entirely composed of animal pictures and names. By the time students reach high school, it is likely they know many of these animals. So although it seems like forty-eight animals is a lot to learn, in reality perhaps ten or fifteen will be new to students. Learning the animal names is important. At the same time, students should think about the value of learning with pictures. Additionally, pronunciation of many animal names is difficult. The words owl, vulture, and wolf are difficult to say properly. When talking about these animals, students can hear and say technical biology terms that they learned in the previous chapter.

Part II: Physics

Chapter 3: Gravity

This chapter covers calculations with gravity and significant figures. If your students have watches, and some of their watches are analog with second hands, you can introduce the idea of significant figures quite easily by dropping some objects in the classroom and timing how long they take to land. When asked to report times, students with analog watches can only give an estimate between two seconds (i.e., "between four and five seconds"), whereas students with digital stopwatches can get more precise — perhaps to the tenth of a second. Alternately, if we take a look at pictures of clocks, we find that while most display the hour, some don't display the minute, and some don't display the second. If the clock only shows information about what hour it is, and somebody asks us the minute, we can only shrug our shoulders and say, "This clock doesn't show that information." This smoothly transitions into a conversation about how to calculate averages when some of your numbers are less precise than others. In math class, we learn that 2 = 2.0, but in physics, sometimes it's not true that 2 seconds = 2.0 seconds.

Chapter 4: Egg Drop

This is a classic experiment commonly performed in American junior and senior high schools. Students make a container for a raw egg. The container should be designed so that when the egg is dropped from a height of several meters, the egg will not break upon landing. There are many rules and designs. Typically the rules ensure that the experiment is inexpensive. Prior to the drop itself, students give a short presentation introducing their container's design and why they think it's effective.

Part III: Earth Science

Earth science includes a lot of things, because a lot of things happen on earth. Interestingly, it also includes space science, which doesn't.

Chapter 5: Volcanoes

This chapter introduces a few key words about volcanoes and then changes gears to a historical perspective. Students are given information about a famous historical volcanic eruption and prepare and deliver a presentation on it. In doing so, they can make use of some new vocabulary and get a perspective of the impact that volcanoes have had on communities around the world. Studying natural disasters is a good way to show the connection between science and people's lives and communities.

Chapter 6: Space

Because the English names of the planets are the names of characters in Sailor Moon, some students may already know them all. Other students with better taste will have to learn them. In this chapter we take some time to calculate distances between planets and how long it would take to reach them. We also talk about moons of planets other than Earth. If you've never learned about moons around other planets, the fact that they exist — and some in large number — may strike you as a surprise.

Chapter 7: Energy

This chapter has two topics. First we look at energy sources. Have you ever wondered where the electricity that you use comes from, and what kind of production methods are used? In the U.S. and Japan, some of our electricity is generated by dams, and while that's good because it doesn't cause global warming, it can't be expanded because all the good places to build dams on all the big rivers already have them. If we're thinking about where to get more power in the future, the starting point is learning about our current electricity supplies. The second topic is a mathematical analysis of light bulbs. Newer LED bulbs are expensive to purchase but use little electricity and have long lifetimes. By doing number crunching, we can see how much money can be saved using those bulbs.

Chapter 8: Lifestyle

The previous chapter dealt with energy use, and this chapter switches to talking about ourselves. How do we spend our lives, and what are some things we do that impact our world? Environmental science and lifestyle choices go hand-in-hand, and the topics are easily accessible to high school students.

Many people believe that water from their town is particularly good tasting, or conversely particularly bad tasting, and yet when put to the test they can't tell Evian from Tulsa tap water. A one-lesson water-tasting experiment gives us a chance to test these claims. Students sample five different kinds of water without knowing where each is from. They evaluate the water based on several criteria. We then display which water came from where, or is sold under what label. If the teacher has an assistant available, the experiment can be set up as a double blind test.


For playing video and audio, probably your computer's default media player can do the job. If you'd like to try a new one, VLC is a good choice. It's free, open source, and runs on all major operating systems. If you like, you can play audio and video files at reduced speed, which can spice up a listening activity.

The textbook, tests, homework, and most other materials were produced in LibreOffice. It's an office suite that's better than Microsoft Office in most ways. For editing SVG files, I use Inkscape. For editing photos and other pictures, I use the GIMP. These programs are all free and open source.


In some countries, students are not traditionally taught how to use calculators. This is peculiar and seems like a bad decision. Regardless, we should expose our students to arithmetic on a calculator before sending them abroad, because in many countries it is taken for granted that you know how to use one. There are different kinds of calculators, but since they perform the same core functions, which one you use is mostly dependent on your learning environment.


For general information on the textbook, see the author's website or contact the author on twitter.


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I make my SVG graphs using Matplotlib. If you're interested in modifying them, take a look at the source and go for it.