Science Vocabulary

9 Feb

Internalizing new vocabulary is tough.  There are usually multiple ways of thinking about a word, multiple forms of the word, and then there’s the “I-sort-of-know-what-that-means-I-could-recognize-it-if-I-heard-it-but-I-can’t-define-it” syndrome with which we’re all familiar.

I started out using a Frayer model to explore our important words (erosion, sediment, and deposition).  The model involves not only defining the word, but coming up with examples and non-examples, and in this case, different forms of the word.  Some of our examples/non-examples are a bit suspect (couldn’t dust on the ground be considered sediment?) but as long as the kids are really trying to think about what works and doesn’t, I figure we’re learning :).

photo 3 copy

Next was getting students to use the words in their own talk, which is a “stickier” way of teaching them the word than just writing definitions or talking about it.  Sentence frame are a good way to start this, but they’re controlled structure doesn’t allow for as much fluency with vocabulary as is probably ideal.   I was cleaning out some old files, and I found this vocabulary strategy, which I will boringly title “Categorize and Defend.”

photo 3Students have a list of appropriate words (here it’s from our Earth Science unit, but they could be from history, or a book your studying, or math, etc) and 2-4 categories.  They need to sort the words into the appropriate categories, explaining to their partner or group why they’re putting the words where they go.  What makes the activity so flexible, is that students can put words in more than one category, as long as they can defend why they did so.  There’s no right or wrong answer, you just have to justify.

For example, some students put “minerals” in the rock cycle category, because, “Rocks are made of minerals, so to have a rock cycle, you need to have minerals.”  Other students put them in the weathering category, because, “chemical weathering dissolves certain minerals, like calcite, from rocks.”

The word sort was much more engaging to students than I had anticipated–the more they disagreed and had to support their point of view, the better–and each group was able to come up with a variety of justifications for where they put their words.  It was an interesting opportunity for me to see what they had internalized and what they hadn’t.  The sorting activity on it’s own only took about 15-20 minutes, depending on how long I gave for the debrief discussion.

I would really recommend this more for the middle/end of when you’re teaching a word than the beginning.  Students need to have a fairly wide exposure to the word or learning about the subject in order to have a rich discussion.

One Response to “Science Vocabulary”


  1. Preschool is too late: how school’s can address the word gap | Wordsmatter - April 4, 2014

    […]  There’s certainly a place for direct vocabulary instruction in schools (I talk about it here, here, and here) books are our greatest and most lifelong […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


A world of film, a house of stuff.

Literacy Changes Everything!

Teaching and Parenting as a Dedicated Reader and Writer

To Make a Prairie

A blog about reading, writing, teaching and the joys of a literate life

Shanahan on Literacy

Literacy in Education


A meeting place for a world of reflective writers.

The Quick and the Ed

Literacy in Education

Shanker Blog


Free Technology for Teachers

Literacy in Education


Smarter Charts from Marjorie Martinelli & Kristine Mraz

%d bloggers like this: