General Science and Teaching

Making vocabulary meaningful

How do you make vocabulary terms meaningful in your classroom? I'm talking about really getting kids to understand how the word or words are used in context. The past few years I've been using a PowerPoint presentation to give my students a term and the definition. The term(s) fit with the current unit, but I feel that kids just copy down the definition and never truly grasp how it relates to the topic at hand. As a relatively new teacher (less than 5 years) I've followed the lead of my department. We give the word and definition then after ten words students take a vocabulary quiz over those terms. Students may take up to 10 quizzes over the course of a quarter. That's 100 different words! As the new standards move towards depth rather than breadth I'd like to do this with our vocab.

Shalen Boyer
Shalen Boyer
4675 Activity Points

Hi Shalen, I have used the Frayer Model for learning new vocabulary and like it a lot. There is a discussion thread about this here: http://learningcenter.nsta.org/discuss/default.aspx?tid=TEssVzrZWyM_E#24406 The discussion about the Frayer Model is toward the bottom of all the posts for this discussion thread. I also like Kagan's "Quiz, Quiz, Trade" learning strategy. My students enjoy this for learning vocabulary as well. The students choose one of their vocabulary cards (word on one side and definition on the other). They look for a partner and teach each other the vocabulary word they have. Then they trade cards and go look for a new partner to quiz/teach the new word they have. You can learn more about how this works from his book: Kagan, Spencer (2009). Kagan Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. He also has a website.

Carolyn Mohr
Carolyn Mohr
79623 Activity Points

Hello, In addition to the wonderful advice from the other teachers, I do the Activity Before Content (ABC) where I put familiar vocab words on the board (words the students can use in general conversation, words that they own) and start the conversation between students with that. Then I introduce an inquiry lab and facilitate discussion in my lab groups. As they collaborate, I reiterate new words that I want them using and write them on the board when a group uses a word that goes along with the lesson. Other students take notice and soon all the groups are using that new word or at least asking about it. After the lab is over, we discuss how the new words link with the words they are already familiar with and we illustrate them in our interactive notebooks.

Jamie Puschus
Jamie Puschus
565 Activity Points

Hi Shalen For students to understand and use new words, they need to hear and say them, as well as read and write them. For more complex or unfamiliar words, have the students repeat the words several times out loud, emphasizing the syllables by clapping or tapping them out: pho-to-syn-the-sis. (I picked up this idea from a colleague who taught elementary science.) This seems to help with spelling, too, so even older students can benefit. I found that student like to play with words. One of my favorites is a “word splash.” Using a prepared word list or one the students generate, have them write sentences including two or more of the words they’re exploring. In “word sorts,” give groups of students lists of words to categorize. The discussions they have are interesting and informative. Mary Bigelow

Mary Bigelow
Mary Bigelow
7775 Activity Points

Hello, thanks for sharing your thought because I also do think the same way because I am one of that person who learn this way. :)

Shamama Nargis
Shamama Nargis
2845 Activity Points

This may sound too simple but it works. Have students write a vocabulary word on one side of a card and then draw an illustration of what the word means on the other side. Some science words are abstract but students get really creative. Have each student do a different word or 2-3 students do the same word. Then pass the cards out and let students work in pairs to look at a word and see if they can define it to their partner. If they need help then can turn over the card to see if the illustration helps them define it.

Betty Paulsell
Betty Paulsell
48540 Activity Points

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