Vocabulary in Science Classrooms
Could You Say That in English?
Each content area has unique vocabulary, but the technical vocabulary load in science is probably greater than in any other subject. One problem is that much of the vocabulary used in science falls into the lupulin/lupulone category—students know neither the word nor the concept—rather than the lunules/philtrum/avuncular category in which students have the concept but simply lack the label. One advantage that science teachers have is that much of their class time is spent with hands-on activities and experiments that are intended to provide the direct experience essential for building meanings for these completely new concepts. Generally, the hands-on experience should occur first and then students should be led to attach the associated vocabulary with the phenomena experienced.
Science teachers must be ruthless about limiting the number of words, following guidelines listed earlier. Textbook and curriculum guide writers often list all words not apt to be known by students without consideration for the fact that some listed words only occur once and are not essential for understanding the unit, much less the whole discipline. Once you have identified the key vocabulary, it is a good idea to let students know exactly which words it is critical to master. One way to do that is to post critical vocabulary on a board along with a “plain English” translation and/or picture or diagram whenever possible. It is also helpful to show the phonetic pronunciation next to each word because many students have difficulty pronouncing these strange, big words. Psychologists believe that while we can put concepts in our long-term associative memory stores without pronouncing them, retrieval from that memory store often follows an auditory route. Students who cannot pronounce the critical vocabulary may understand what they are reading and what you are telling and demonstrating for them, but they may lack the auditory route to retrieve that information if they have not said the critical words.
The Word Bench activity, in which you ask your students if they know any other words that look and sound like a new science term and if they think any of these words might be related, will help your students become more morphologically sophisticated. In addition, you have the unique opportunity to teach your students the meaning for some morphemes that occur most commonly in science words. Seize this opportunity when introducing one of these words, because your students might not notice the morphemes on page 166 in any of their other classes.
biology, biome, biosphere
biology, geology, physiology
omnivore, herbivore, carnivore
© ______ 2007, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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