Vocabulary or terminology building is a difficult task for many students. A variety of teaching techniques and strategies are needed to help them develop a true understanding related to concepts.
Typical science and math textbooks introduce ten to 30 new vocabulary or terminology words every chapter. Considering curriculum requirements, students are faced with making sense and learning these new terms. Along with the need to make connections to concepts in a relatively short period of time.
These new terms must are also influenced by students’ prior knowledge and experiences (PKE). Unfortunately, their PKE is often laced with misconceptions regarding the meaning of science and math terminology.
The following techniques are designed to help students correct any misconceptions, develop a deeper understanding and make those all important connections with concepts.
Strategies and Methods
To develop a real understanding, students must encounter new vocabulary words at least six or seven times in different circumstances (Incidental vocabulary acquisition: The effects of task type, word occurrence and their combination, Batia Laufer, Language Teaching Research, 2011).
The following example techniques provide ways to use vocabulary terms in different learning situations.
- KWL Organizers
- Venn Diagrams
- Student Created Videos
- Hands-on, Minds-on Explorations
- Explaining Using Their Own Definitions
- Student Created Illustrations
Additional strategies include writing in math and writing in science. These two strategies involve students writing to incorporate vocabulary terms in a manner that helps them develop a better understanding of the concepts behind the words.
Now let’s look at some more strategies and methods.
Using Graphic Organizers
Two examples of graphic organizers you can use to help students learn science and math terms are:
Concept or Definition Map – begin by placing a new vocabulary term in the center of a graphic organizer. For example thermal energy.
Then descriptive words associated with this term are placed in the concept definition map boxes surrounding the term. For example – heat, energy transformation, etc.
Vocabulary Concept Cards (VOC) – in this vocabulary building technique students write the term on one side of a VOC (4 x 6 index card). Then divide the other side of the index card into for quadrants.
The left-hand side quadrants are:
- What the word is using own words
- What the word is not using own words
The right-hand quadrants are:
- Examples (next to what the word is) using drawings, words, or sentence
- Definition (next to what the word is not) provided by textbook or teacher provided resource
Students in all science and math classroom have a wide range of learning abilities, presenting differentiation challenges. The following strategies are designed to help you address these everyday challenges.
Differentiate Vocabulary Lists – addresses the needs of all students. For example gifted and talented or advanced students, struggling students and students with learning disabilities.
Required vocabulary terms are divided into three sections.
- Basic science or math terms all students must know in a chapter.
- Enrichment vocabulary words for gifted and talented students who need the extra challenge
- Essential words for students struggling with concepts and students with learning disabilities must learn to remain on grade-level
List-Group-Label - a form of structured brainstorming designed to help all students identify what they know regarding a concept and terms related to that concept, while provoking a degree of analysis and critical thinking. Directions for students:
- Think of all the words related to ______. (a key “big idea” in the text)
- Group the words listed by some shared characteristics or commonalities.
- Select a label for each group.
- Try to add words to the categories on the organized lists.
Why Use These Strategies?
Vocabulary building requires more than using the following traditional methods:
- rote memorization
- looking them up in the glossary and to copy definition
- writing a sentence without knowing the meaning
Why? Because they only lead to short term knowledge, with no real understanding. The goal is long term learning and retention.
If your students are having difficulty learning and applying science or math vocabulary, then these strategies and methods are ready to help. So give them a chance. Also share ideas you found that work in with your students.