Science Vocabulary

Science Vocabulary

By Fred Arnold

The Elementary Science Program staff includes these strategies  and more in ESP unit teachers' guides and student activity books. Teachers should monitor student understanding whenever new science vocabulary arises, and provide for additional development using these and other strategies. Neither science, nor language arts can be taught in isolation. Use of language arts skills can help students learn science and use of science activities will motivate many students to engage in language arts.

Science vocabulary can assist students in making better observations or in making sense of observations already recorded. Take, for example, the water test activity in our Mystery Matters unit. In this activity, students combine water with small amounts of six different "unknown" white powders. Before doing this, students could be introduced to the terms solution and suspension and to the observable properties of both. They could spend a few minutes identifying familiar examples of each before testing the powders. These simple steps will alert students to what to look for while conducting the test. Their observations of the powders would be improved. Conversely, students could do the test and then be given the vocabulary that describes what they just observed. When the powder disappeared without changing the appearance of the liquid, it dissolved. When it turned the liquid cloudy white, it went into suspension. In this case, students had a concrete experience which gave meaning to the terms.

Neither approach ensures that students have fully mastered the vocabulary. Knowledge of a word is equivalent to the ability to use it correctly. A student may be able to recite a definition for the term solution but still be unable to use it to correctly describe one of the ways a liquid has interacted with a solid. Students need multiple encounters with new words to fully understand them at a deep level so that the words fit into what students already know.

Listed below are useful strategies for helping students develop deeper knowledge of new science concept words. This wide variety enables a teacher to select appropriate ways for specific students to build understanding of specific groups of vocabulary words.

Frayer Model asks a student to develop understanding of a new vocabulary term by listing it in the center of a page. Then the paper is divided into quarters. In one, the student defines the word in his or her own words. In another quarter, the facts or characteristics of the concept are listed. The last two quarters are used to list examples and non-examples of the term.

Semantic Feature Analysis presents students with a set of related terms to understand. It challenges students to develop a chart that compares the essential features of the terms. It could be used, for example, to compare the properties of solids, liquids and gases. 

List, Group, Label asks students to list a number of vocabulary words related to a topic being studied, sort them into groups that are most closely related, and develop a label that describes the relationship of the words in each group. In this approach, the give and take of discussion as a group of students considers the various steps in the task develops deeper understandings of the words being categorized. Students studying Rocks and Minerals could sort concept words from the unit, discovering that some refer to ways that rocks form, and others refer to properties of minerals.

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