Date of Award

Fall 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Curriculum & Instruction

First Advisor

Luciana de Oliveira

Committee Chair

Luciana de Oliveira

Committee Member 1

Margie Berns

Committee Member 2

Tony Silva

Committee Member 3

John Staver


Recent research has shown that the construction of science knowledge involves students' development of science understanding and science language, particularly as it relates to intertextual connections to science terminology and concepts that teachers and students make in science classroom discourse. However, up to now, there is little research exploring this development in upper elementary students, including English Language Learners (ELLs). Through a qualitative case study of a fourth grade science classroom with ELLs, this research project investigated science classroom discourse, using the frameworks of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) discourse analysis and intertextual analysis, to understand the nature of science classroom discourse and challenges for ELLs as well as support the teacher provided or lack thereof in response to the identified challenges. Specifically, this study focused on the kinds of intertextuality and language that the teacher and students drew on to connect to science terminology and concepts emphasized in science texts and science classroom discourse.

The SFL discourse analysis of the observed science classroom discourse showed that much of the teacher's science teaching was guided by the science textbook. In order for students to meet the textual demands of the science textbook, the teacher drew on everyday knowledge and language, i.e., Intertextuality to Recounting Events, to connect between science and everyday knowledge and to move between science and everyday language in her presentation and explanation of the textbook content and language. The teacher used text-dependent questions to question students about the textbook passages presented and explained earlier. These questions posed particular challenges to ELLs. The intertextual analyses of student responses to text-dependent questions revealed that most students learned which kinds of intertextuality and language, i.e., ones tightly fitting the textbook content and language or Intertextuality to Written Texts, were more likely to get their responses accepted and acknowledged by the teacher. In contrast, the focal ELL often intuitively drew on everyday knowledge and language, i.e., Intertextuality to Recounting Events, to construct her personal assumptions or opinions in response to questions and offered ideas unexpected by the teacher and classmates. These intertextual analyses showed that the focal ELL appeared to be unaware of the teacher's implicit or implied expectations for the kinds of intertextuality and language by which to accomplish the advanced science literacy task of answering text-dependent questions. This study highlights that all students, and especially ELLs, need instructional support from teachers in learning to develop new ways of participating in science classroom discourse and answering text-dependent questions that correspond to teachers' expectations. These findings and analyses were used to provide pedagogical implications and suggestions for teachers working with ELLs in upper elementary mainstream science classrooms and teacher educators.