Forums / Chemistry / Teaching Science Vocabulary


Teaching Science Vocabulary

Author Post
Danielle Ryan Danielle Ryan 70 Points

Hi Science Friends! Does anyone have any interactive or best practices for teaching science vocabulary?

Marsh Carroll Marsh Carroll 199 Points

I have my high school students (including ESL) create a 5 minute podcast about one Science concept. They are on "All This Science" Cheers, Dr. C (Marshall)

Emily Faulconer Faulconer 5215 Points

My mother - who is also an educator - taught me this valuable lesson regarding teaching vocabulary. It takes 17+ exposures to a word to cement its meaning! I ensure that students are exposed to the word many times in multiple ways (hearing it, seeing it in the textbook and other course materials, writing it in their assignments, etc.). I teach online college science courses - I use bold font for the key vocabulary to further emphasize the term. 

Yuliana Quiroz Yuliana Quiroz 200 Points

Hello! It depends on what grade we are teaching science vocabulary to. If this is for older middle school students, I would definitley say that a sort of memory game would be fun and interactive. You could place post-it notes on, for example, the tools in a science lab, and have the students study them. After they've studied it, you can remove the post-its and they can go around and name tools or any other scientific phenomena that you might have on display.

Sarah Kimbro Sarah Kimbro 1675 Points

I found this picture online and thought it was a great idea and way to learn science vocabulary.


Katharine Shroyer Katharine Shroyer 40 Points


I am completing a graduate course right now where we spent a week talking about vocabulary instruction and ideas for how to do that. I would check out trying to do a word wall, either as an entire class or individualized. If you check out the below website it has some information about what this might look like in a science classroom.

Cristina Welch Cristina Welch 400 Points

  • Hold off on vocab definitions till the last possible moment in the lesson.  Start using the words on day 1, explain as neccesary.  When it comes time for definitions they will not need to look them up or ask you, they will already know the meaning.  kind of like learning a foreign language when you hear a certain word being used you can infer the meaning.
  • Draw pictures/diagrams to accompany definitions (students remember a lot from pictures); analogies can be used

Tyler Stark Tyler Stark 465 Points

Utilize kahoots or quizzes as a method for review. I also have students look up the definitions for words, then use it in a sentance, and draw an image that illustrates the meaning of the word. 

Charissa Barnhill Charissa Barnhill 1564 Points

I have used Quizlet Live with vocabulary words and students seem to love it! I've also created warm-ups where students essentially play Taboo with vocabulary words. You would pair students in partners and one of them faces the board while the other faces away. You then show the word on the board and they try to describe it to their partner and then they switch for the next word. I have found that students are generally really engaged in this activity. These are both engaging ways that get students interacting with the vocabulary and great for getting them to intially be familiar with the terms. 

Carili Rubiera Carili Rubiera 4145 Points

Commenting from the Webinar!

Ayodele Shofoluwe Ayodele Shofoluwe 545 Points

Hello! This is a great resource for acquiring new knowledge about science!

Vivian Del Cid Vivian Del Cid 3265 Points

Vocabulary in science is such an integral part that so many educators leave out. I'd love to see a link helping with on this!

Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 63540 Points

Hi Vivian, It's true that teaching vocabulary in science is an integral part of understanding and it should not be left out. There are multiple strategies that can be used to help student acquire. Here are a couple of strategies I use with my high schoolers. For every unit, I decide on ten to twelve words that are essential vocabulary that will be needed for a student to have maximum understanding of the subject matter. I share these words with my resource room teacher prior to the start of the unit so that he or she can help preteach vocabulary to students that are on an individualized education plan (IEP). At the beginning of the year, I have all of my students make a science lab notebook. One of the sections in the back of the notebook is a glossary of the essential vocabulary. At the beginning of every lesson, I introduce one of those terms that best relate to lesson. My students then define that term using the [url=]Frayer method[/url]. An example of one of my student's notebooks can be found [url=]here[/url]. One reason I like the Frayer method as a strategy to teach vocabulary is that it allows for multiple ways to use the word. We define it, use it in a sentence, and draw a picture or [url=]word drawing[/url] representing that word. We can also give an opposite of the word, examples of the word if it is a general term used to describe more specific words, or establish some word play to help students remember a specific concept. This exercise should generally take between three to five minutes. Another method that sometimes proves helpful in addition to the Frayer method is the teaching of [url=]Latin and Greek prefixes, root words, and suffixes[/url]. Once students have learned to recognize certain common root words as well as their accompanying suffixes and prefixes, they have a best chance of inferring the meaning of unknown science terms. Here's an [url=]example[/url] of several common root words, but if you do an simple Internet search you can find more. You can also define your essential vocabulary in terms of root words. The use of concept maps are nice when trying to show relationships between words so that students can understand how the use of multiple essential vocabulary helps explain a concept. The Learning Center has several great resources that discuss the use of concept maps in the science classroom. This is one [url=]example[/url]. Cloze Reading is another strategy that is best described as fill-in-the-blank. This has been a tried and true strategy used by both foreign language and science instructors alike. It provides students with a list of essential vocabulary and a reading passage to complete. Here is an [url=]example[/url]. Putting it all Together is an exercise I use as a way to summarizes a lesson and have students reinforce the concept they are learning while using the essential vocabulary. Students are given a writing prompt and several essential vocabulary terms which to use. They complete this exercise in their lab notebooks and turn it in as an exit ticket. I use their responses to gauge their understanding so I know where best to proceed the following day. For example, after a lesson about photosynthesis, I might ask students to explain the main goal of photosynthesis using the following words: oxygen, carbon dioxide, light, water, and plants. Students might respond with something like the following: Plants use light, water, and carbon dioxide to make their own food. Oxygen is produced as a by-product of photosynthesis. However, there are many way to use the words to show understanding. In my opinion, it is best for educators to pull from many of these instructional strategies as using only one or two tends to limited the depth of student understanding and, of course, they should be used in conjunction with other methods of best practices so that teachers aren't just teaching rote memorization skills. How do other teachers tackle vocabulary with their classes?

Anna Snowden Anna Snowden 320 Points

Hi Danielle! Recently, I taught my first science lesson and from my own discoveries, the more interactive the better. For example, my class was learning about sound waves. They learned by creating their own sound waves. Students stuck tuning forks in bowls of water and watched the water vibrate. They really enjoyed this. Most students learn by doing an participating. Therefore, I would teach new vocabulary by having the students be apart of the vocabulary.

Danielle Pinto Danielle Pinto 400 Points

Hi Danielle! When reading up on it, I found a resource that seems like it might be pretty helpful for introducing new vocabulary, especially for ELL students! The source talks about using multisensory strategies in order to help increase understanding of new science vocabulary. I think incorporating all 5 senses when teaching any subject is important, but especially in science! I think this resource will help you find ways to use touch, taste, sight, smell, and sound in your classroom when teaching new vocal to your students. I hope this helps!

Raquel Dugan-Dibble Raquel Dugan-Dibble 1120 Points

Hello - I use quizlet for my students 7-12 for studying for tests.   Quizlet allows the students to set up a free site that they can input their vocabulary words or information and create a variety of study methods.   I have the students create their own quizlets to help imprint the information and also in a format that they will utilize best to study.

Jennifer Hicks Jennifer Hicks 660 Points

I use quizlet as well.  What I really like about this site is that students can create an answer in the quizlet that is specific tpo them.  Helpful mnemonics that they can remember, a line from a song or poem that uses the vocabulary or any other trick that is helpful to that student.  I do encourage the students to use their quizlet to make a quiz to give to their tablemates - this is a great conversation starter and a great way to have students see different ways to think throuogh the vocabulary.

I use the correct vocabulary from day one. The first 1-2 weeks, I introduce my students to the chemistry lab, equipment, and mathematics we will use. In doing so, I do a chemistry glassware, equipment, etc. survey-i.e. I put out the equipment we will use for the year and each day they are to familize themselves with it-i.e. what is it called, what is it function, what lab would we use it in, etc. Then I go over the mathematics, introducing units, dimensional analysis, etc. and introduce vocabulary that way since we are just doing math with chemistry content. 

I also have the luxury of small classes so I have students help set up and take down labs; this increases their familiarity with equipment and vocabulary. 

And I have a word wall as well as a I wonder wall for students to ask questions-yes even at the high school level, it is interesting to see what my students come up with. The word wall also must show the word and what is connects to so test tube is actually written like a test tube, stoichiometry isn't as easy.

Jennifer Hicks Jennifer Hicks 660 Points

Vocabulary is so important in a science classroom.  If students are introduced from day ones, they will have a better understanding of how the words work and are aware of how the process of science works.  Knowledge of root words, from Latin or another foreign language a student might be learning, goes a long way in a science class room.  Deciphering a word is a key the the way a  vocabulary word is integrated into a concept.  For instance, the metric system has vocabulary like centimeter - which is 1/100 of a meter.  They way I have taught students to remember this word is to ask the question: how many pennies make a dollar?  The answer is 100 - which translates to 100 cents - so 100 "cent"imeters equals one meter.

Judith Boyle Judith Boyle 815 Points



As my students are investigating phenomena, I will post a "Sounds of Science" word list that I hear the students using. I will sing, "The lab is alive with the sound of science." (Sung to the tune of "The hills are alive with the sound of music.) That is a signal that a new word is being used, and we need to take time to discuss it. I will ask the student, "What does that word mean?" Then I assess their explanation and make corrections as needed. If they are using the word correctly, I will ask the student to teach it to the other students. Sometimes, when I use a new word, the kids will sing! It is very entertaining but very powerful. 

Mary Bigelow Mary Bigelow 10180 Points

In my experience, for students to understand and use new words, they also need to hear and say them. Sometimes what students wrote had little in common with the actual word. They could recognize the word in written material and match it to a definition, but many had difficulty pronouncing the word, generating the word in oral conversations, or using it in their writing.

I shared my dilemma with an elementary level colleague. He suggested that for more complex or unfamiliar words, have the students repeat the new word several times out loud, emphasizing the syllables by clapping out each syllable: met-a-mor-pho-sis. I tried this with my middle and high school classes, and it did help them with pronunciation and spelling. (Be prepared for some eye-rolling at first with secondary students, so explain why you are asking them to do this.)  -- Mary B

Quyen Han Quyen Han 9875 Points

As you can see from the various posts here, there are many different and fun ways to make science vocabulary words come alive!

Find one that grabs your interest and go from there.  If that doesn't work out, there are many more to fall back on ;-)

Abby Marbut Abby Marbut 405 Points

Learning vocabulary is such an important thing in science classes. I think vocab is something that needs to be continuously assessed through various formative assessments. One great way to learn vocabulary is by having students draw pictures or diagrams to go along with their definitions. Some students will underestand words more if they see a picture to go along with it. I think it would be great to display vocab words in the room for each unit and refer to these daily. It would be fun to come up with different games for students to learn vocabulary but it's something I would have to think on!

Aylin Quintanilla Aylin Quintanilla 215 Points

Yes! i agree with you! Learning vocabulary is very crucial to understand the activity. Drawing pictures help the teacher gain an insight on what the student describes the vocabulary as.

Erica Herold Erica Herold 735 Points

While I expose students to vocabulary in a variety of ways, my absolute favorite is the word wall, but with an artisitc spin! Instead of me printing out words and stapling them to the wall, I have students choose words we've been learning about and ask them to illustrate a word to go on the wall. The art they create is phenomenal and make the word wall so amazing to look at (which is the best part). Students love looking at each others work, and I've even over heard students talking about the words on the wall! It's a great way to integrate more art into the classroom while learning a bit of vocabulary at the same time!

Jennifer Toy Jennifer Toy 715 Points

Hi Erica, 

I totally think this is such a cool idea. I would like to be able to do this, if only I had a large enough space! I have noticed that I do not spend enough time reviewing vocabulary with students. Are there any other ways you like to incorporate vocabulary practice in your day to day lessons? 

Erik Lucas Erik Lucas 695 Points

Love the vocab illustartion idea, I'm totally borrowing it!

Bradley Clark Bradley Clark 190 Points

Quizlet live is a great idea. I used quizlet when I was in high school and loved it. It was fun and encouraged small competition between students.

Post Reply

Forum content is subject to the same rules as NSTA List Serves. Rules and disclaimers