Making Curriculum Connections

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Six Steps to Effective Vocabulary Instruction

1.The teacher provides a description, explanation,or example of a new word

2: Students restate the explanation of the new term in their own words

3: Students create a non-linguistic representation of the term

4: Students periodically do activities that help them add to their knowledge of vocabulary terms.

5: Students are asked to discuss the terms with one another.

6: Students are involved in games that allows them to interact with the terms.

The limits of my language are the limits of my mind.

All I know is what I have words for.~Anonymous~

Vocabulary in Science Texts

Science texts often contain many specialized terms that may be unfamiliar to students. These terms represent important concepts that are central to understanding science; not knowing such words can impede students’ ability to understand and learn from text. Vocabulary instruction that targets conceptually important words can increase students’ understanding of complex ideas presented in text, while also broadening students’ overall word knowledge. Students best learn vocabulary when they have multiple opportunities for meaningful exposure to a few select words. Thus, the most effective vocabulary strategies are those that provide opportunities for students to read, write, and discuss words in a variety of contexts. The ultimate goal of vocabulary instruction is to help students develop a deep understanding of vocabulary so they can use words to explain ideas when speaking and writing.

Teaching Vocabulary with Science Texts

The following guidelines can be used to teach vocabulary with any science text.

•Choose a text that relates to a topic or unit of study. Texts that focus on a more narrow idea within a topic (e.g., vertebrates) work better than texts that survey a broad topic (e.g., animals).

•Familiarize yourself with the text, noting the main ideas and the number of difficult or specialized terms. Look for words that convey the most central ideas of the text. Then, select a few words on which to focus instruction.

•Think about how the words you chose relate to the concepts you are teaching. You may want to make a concept map that shows the relationship between words to help you conduct a vocabulary discussion with your class.

•Introduce the words to students and gauge their familiarity with each word. Prompt students to think about whether or not they know the word, have heard the word but do not know what it means, or have never heard the word before.

• Orally provide short, accessible definitions of the words before, during, or after reading. Initial definitions need not be complex or include many examples. Introduce each word to students so they understand its basic meaning.

• Connect the word’s usage to students’ prior knowledge. Discuss how the word relates to a familiar topic. Describe a common situation in which the word is used and clarify the meaning of the word as necessary.

• Ask students to locate one of the words in the text and read aloud the sentence that contains the word. When applicable, discuss the ways in which the context of the sentence helps the student better understand the word.

• Have students generate examples that relate to the target words. Students can also create sentences or drawings that incorporate the words.

•Provide opportunities for students to use new words in speech and writing. For example, structure a small-group discussion in which students incorporate a set of words that you provide on index cards. Or, create a class glossary to use as a reference when writing.

•Continue to deepen students’ understanding of previously learned words by revisiting those words over time. Incorporate vocabulary instruction to support learning in other content areas.

“The background knowledge we bring to our reading colors every aspect of our learning and understanding. Making connections to personal experience facilitates understanding.”

- Stephanie Harvey & Anne Goudvis


Children need many, many exposures to words before those words become part

of their “working vocabularies”!

Children need to hear vocabulary words twelve to twenty-five times before it become part of their working vocabulary.

Vocabulary instruction doesn't just happen in language arts—it happens all day

long in every content area!

“Children should leave school each day with a smile on their face and a story in their hearts.” - Deena Jump

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