What’s the word in science?

What are some of the best practices for teaching science vocabulary?

—D., Florida

Science has a language unto itself; it is not surprising that many students struggle with vocabulary much like English language learners (ELLs). Because of this, I used some ELL best practices to teach science to all my students.

Early in my career, I would give students a list of vocabulary at the beginning of a unit and have them find the definitions in the textbook’s glossary. While this technique introduces words students will encounter, it is out of context and does not really support learning the terms in a meaningful way. Besides, sometimes I had a tough time understanding the glossary definitions!

An ELL specialist suggested a very well-researched lesson framework called Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP). With this differentiated instruction approach you plan language objectives alongside your content objectives. Every lesson incorporates opportunities to practice reading, writing and speaking with the new terms. (I discovered that you should limit new terminology to no more than five terms each lesson.) You find resources using this model in the NSTA Learning Center and elsewhere online.

Many online graphic organizers can help students learn or study vocabulary: word wheels, concept maps, Venn diagrams, and so on. I would use these while reviewing content to help students contextualize terminology.

Students should also learn to speak using new terminology. Several online dictionaries feature recorded pronunciations that include scientific terms.

Hope this helps!


Photo credit: brewbooks via Flickr

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1 Response to What’s the word in science?

  1. Harry Keller says:

    This short article has much explicit and implicit instruction for us all. The implicit message is that science can be a vehicle for improving reading skills. A corollary is that science can help with writing and math skills as well. Science is all about discovery, one of the hallmarks of civilizations and a driving force of our species. It can be exciting. That excitement should be used to shore up other areas of learning.

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