5 Ideas For Teaching Science Vocabulary Words (Blog Image)

5 Ideas for teaching science vocabulary words

Vocabulary instruction in science, or any subject, is important for helping students comprehend the curriculum and develop reading skills. Vocabulary building is an essential part of any classroom, especially in science classes where many of the new words students encounter are technical and subject-specific. While studying science is important for understanding and making sense of the world, it would be hard for students to engage with, respond to, or even understand what is being taught without the necessary science vocabulary.

Traditionally, vocabulary has been front-loaded at the beginning of a lesson or unit. Students memorized new words and definitions in isolation and with little context (if any), followed by perhaps a quiz or other activity to “check for understanding.” But with this method, are students really understanding these new vocabulary words? Research shows that they aren’t; in fact, teaching students new words without first developing a conceptual meaning is not necessarily the best strategy.

Students should learn about new words through an explore-before-explain approach, which exposes students to new vocabulary within a specific context first and then explains the meaning of those words. Not only does this facilitate students’ understanding of new vocabulary and science concepts, but it also enables students to relate the words to their prior knowledge, as well as gain background information on the topic.

Flocabulary is a vocabulary-centered instructional platform that uses hip-hop songs to build and apply vocabulary in context. All lessons are designed with Bloom’s Taxonomy in mind, promoting critical and creative thinking. With its many features, Flocabulary is the perfect teaching tool for science vocabulary using the explore-before-explain approach.

Here’s an example of the type of engaging videos you can find on Flocabulary! Students can use this video to review environmental science vocabulary words and concepts.

There are many fun and engaging strategies to teach vocabulary explicitly through direct instruction and/or independent acquisition skills. Below are five ideas for incorporating vocabulary building as part of any science lesson.

New to Flocabulary? Teachers can sign up for a trial to access our lesson videos and assessment activities. Administrators can get in touch with us to learn more about unlocking the full power of Flocabulary through Flocabulary Plus.

Science vocabulary instruction should start with an explore-before-explain approach to give students context about the new words they will learn. Traditional approaches, in which a teacher’s explanation comes first, do little to promote critical thinking or address any misconceptions students may have. Instead, with the explore-before-explain mindset, teachers can expose students to new vocabulary words within a concept, rather than explaining or defining the vocabulary first. To start with this approach, teachers can assign a quick lab or activity, or conduct a demonstration to provide students with context before teaching a lesson.

After teachers provide conceptual context, students are primed to learn and really understand the meaning of new vocabulary words. Students are then more likely to relate to and use the new vocabulary words because they have already seen them in use within a given topic. This contrasts with traditional methods that involve memorizing and parroting definitions.

Consider using Flocabulary’s science video lessons to introduce vocabulary words within context across various types of science topics such as scientific practices, technology and engineering, and life, Earth, space, and physical science, Students can then focus on explaining what they understand about the concepts they explored, even if they do not know certain vocabulary words yet. Watch the video as a class together and then complete the Vocab Cards and Vocab Game activities.

Flocabulary science lesson videos

Providing visual references can be another engaging and creative way to support and strengthen students’ vocabulary. For example, students can collaborate to create and decorate the classroom’s word wall for each unit taught. This promotes ownership of student learning and provides a visual reference for students to use throughout the unit. Students can also create a glossary with images in their science notebooks to refer to as needed. Furthermore, teachers can engage students in a class discussion to create word maps and Frayer models for new vocabulary. These can be hung up in the classroom for future reference.

Students can use Flocabulary’s Vocab Cards to create a drawing and write a sentence about vocabulary words. Students can then save their work and reference it as needed. These Vocab Cards include the vocabulary word, part of speech, definition, and an example sentence, as well as the student’s sentence and drawing. For example, if you’re teaching about wind, use our ”What is Wind?” lesson to teach Earth science vocabulary terms.

What is Wind video lesson
What is Wind Vocab Cards

Research shows that students need repeated exposure to new words over time to learn their meaning and how to use them. Therefore, providing students with multiple opportunities to think about and use vocabulary words is an important strategy.

You can provide repeated exposure to vocabulary in science by using different modalities (speaking, writing, and listening) to practice. For instance, students can write journal entries in which they have to explain or summarize a topic using specific vocabulary words, with or without a word bank. They can also practice paraphrasing or simplifying sentences that use the given vocabulary words, or complete a True or False activity in which students have to rewrite sentences that use the vocabulary words to make them true statements. Students can practice speaking about and listening to new vocabulary words with a Think-Pair-Share activity, a class discussion, a video/audio, or a presentation.

You can also provide repeated exposure in a gamified way. For example, teachers can use Flocabulary’s Vocab Game to help students practice newly learned vocabulary words, or they can create a scavenger hunt game where students identify vocabulary words in a passage, such as those in Flocabulary’s Read & Respond activities. You can also use our Coding and Computer Programming lessons to reinforce students’ computer science vocabulary. These lessons are perfect for teaching students about programming languages, operating systems, and more.

Coding Read & Respond activity
Coding Vocab Game activity

One strategy that is very useful in learning vocabulary words is teaching word parts, or morphemes, so students can independently decipher vocabulary. For example, many science words begin with the same prefix or end with the same suffix. The words “microscope,” “microorganism,” and “microbiology” have the prefix micro-, which means “small” or “tiny.” On the other hand, the words “biology” and “geology” have the suffix -ology, which means “the study of.”

What’s more, many science words have the same root, such as “unicellular” and “multicellular.” The prefix uni- means “one,” while multi- means “many.” In this case, the prefixes are different, but they both relate to the same root word “cell.” If students know the meaning of affixes and the root word, they can easily decipher the meaning of new vocabulary words. While this strategy is helpful in science, it can also be applied to other topics, making it a useful skill no matter the subject.

To practice this skill, teachers can pre-teach vocabulary-specific word parts and use either Nearpod Original or Flocabulary videos to introduce students to new vocabulary within meaningful contexts. Nearpod Original videos are concise informational resources narrated to guide students effectively, enhancing comprehension and making the learning process more accessible. Students can then work in pairs or small groups to predict the meaning of assigned words, followed by a class discussion in which the groups take turns explaining their predictions about the meaning of the word.

Parts of a Plant video lesson
Parts of a Plant Quiz activity

A creative approach can be a fun and memorable way to practice or teach science vocabulary lessons. It can also give students extra opportunities to use the learned vocabulary in various contexts. Teachers can assign a comic strip contest where students explain a topic using lesson-specific vocabulary. Likewise, students can create or draw diagrams or models of scientific concepts, including labels, explanations, and definitions of specific vocabulary. And while these activities might be better suited for group work, they can also be completed individually, depending on the specific needs of each class.

For instance, students can use Lyric Lab to create a rap or poem using vocabulary words from the lesson. This is the final activity in Flocabulary’s lesson sequence, enabling students to demonstrate their mastery of the topic and the vocabulary. In Lyric Lab, students write their own rhymes line by line, utilizing the vocabulary word bank, our rhyme generator, and musical beats. Students can either perform their work live in front of the class as a song or slam poetry, record themselves performing it in a video, or simply save the rap as a PDF to send to their teacher.

The Water Cycle Lyric Lab activity

Vocabulary instruction is an essential part of any classroom, but especially in science, where vocabulary words are often technical and subject-specific. To help students learn these words and ultimately better comprehend science concepts, teachers can first use an explore-before-explain approach to give conceptual meaning to new words. Teachers can also create and provide visual references, provide repeated exposure to new words in different modalities, teach word parts, and use a creative approach to make vocabulary learning a fun and memorable experience. Flocabulary’s many features (Videos, Vocab Cards, Vocab Games, and Lyric Lab) make it easy for teachers to support and engage students when learning vocabulary.

New to Flocabulary? Teachers can sign up for a trial to access our lesson videos and assessment activities. Administrators can get in touch with us to learn more about unlocking the full power of Flocabulary through Flocabulary Plus.

Gaby Perez Barbeito

Gaby is a former middle school science teacher who is passionate about designing engaging educational content for all students.