02 December 2007

Words, Words, Words

Vocabulary can be the Waterloo for many a biology student. Although I have tried this year to tame the mountain our resource material throws at them, I need to do a better job of clearly identifying the absolute-most-important-gotta-know-'em-cold terms. Some words, like "cell" are more important than others (e.g. "peduncle"). But if you're a kid looking at the list of key terms for a given chapter, there is nothing to help sort them in terms of priority. It's hard to make sense of what a eukaryote is if you don't know about a nucleus. If you don't have the concept of an organelle in mind first, it's nearly impossible to connect to a mitochondrion. And so on.

So, this post is a reminder to me to spend more time on vocabulary skills. I don't ask my kids to write out definitions---I don't think that's a valuable way to go. Science is the one area where kids need concrete experiences first. We do lots of labs and activities, but I need to stop more along the way and give kids consistent practice with organizing the terms in various ways.

Do you have a favourite strategy to share? Leave it in the comments. :)


Mr. McNamar said...

Sorry Science Goddess, but I haven't found the perfect method for vocabulary development.
I've always felt that the Sciences should teach Greek and Latin root words.
But one method I've used, which I learned from Scholastic's READ 180 program is to have students rate their knowledge of words before you teach them.
So, a 1 means "never heard of or seen it," a 2 means "Seen or heard it, but couldn't tell you what it means," and a 3 means "I know this word and could use it."
The words are listed in a left hand column. The middle column has some of the words with pre-written definitions and some where they write the definition (as provided by the teacher orally). The third column has sentence starters or questions that create connections between the word and their experiences.
It might be a difficult adaptation for Biology, but it's my favorite for Literature.

The Science Goddess said...

I do lots of Greek and Latin root work with kids. Some dig it---and ask for more---and others don't.

I like your idea from the Read 180 program. Maybe I'll see how I can use it in my next unit.

Thanks for sharing some ideas!