Word Wall: Biotechnology Terms from A to Z

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Students will be able to communicate ideas, methods, and processes necessary for their work in a biotechnology workplace using appropriate language and terminology.

Big Idea

Word Walls can be used to improve literacy in ALL curriculum areas and at ALL levels by helping students build the vocabulary needed to explain complex scientific ideas.


5 minutes

Biotechnology is a dynamic, global enterprise that is open to everyone! As a member of the Biotechnology industry, I have been able to work on projects and within teams that required that I travel to India, Japan, and Italy as well as many locations within the United States.  I am convinced that my strong command of the language of biotechnology made my transitions to companies both near and far a more manageable endeavor and I seek to build that same capacity within my students.

Due to the role of biotechnology in our modern culture, I was not surprised that approximately one dozen of the 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know were terms that could be associated with the biotechnology industry.  It is quite likely that students will encounter these terms in their college or university coursework, on the job or merely when reading the Sunday newspaper. Therefore a very intentional focus on understanding the origin of terms as well as being able to fully define, spell, pronounce and use terms in context is supported by our consistent interaction with our laboratory classroom and individual student word walls. Review the following REFLECTION on more about implementation of a year-long word wall initiative in your science course. 


10 minutes

The words selected for our Word Wall represent language critical to our discipline. These content-specific, "survival" terms are arranged in alphabetical order and are addressed continually using a wide variety of engaging activities. The terms describe major concepts in biotechnology. Students maintain an individual word wall in their laboratory notebooks using student word cards that are printed on cardstock and which mirror the classroom word wall terms. To accompany the word wall cards, my students also have a Biotechnology A to Z Student Glossary as a reference that they can utilize whenever the need arises.

When introducing the role the word wall will have in our study of Biotechnology, I begin by asking the following question(s):

- "Why is it important for biotechnologist to share a common language?"

- "Why is a universal language, used when documenting and communicating our work, necessary in the biotechnology industry?"

- State THREE advantages of using a common language when working in a global enterprise such as the biotechnology industry. Also, what would be THREE disadvantages of not having access to this common language?

These questions are either discussed as a whole group or addressed as a Quikwrite and then shared in small groups or between pairs of students. I have often heard students share that knowing the language "enables you to feel like you are a real part of the industry", "less like an outsider" and "able to feel comfortable and confident in any situation".

As we prepare to transition to the next portion of our lesson, I ask each student to identify at least one word on the word wall that they could accurately pronounce, define or describe, and use in context as this will be the route we will take to assume ownership of each word. There are many instances when whole groups of students are not quite confident enough to take the plunge. This reality sets the stage for developing that "need to know" as we begin to build a strong academic discourse in our biotechnology program and also communicates to students the importance of this component of our course.


15 minutes

One of my favorite ways to interact with the word wall at the beginning of a lesson or unit is to add a "Word of the Day". During this introductory lesson, I often select the word "biotechnology" as the initial "word of the day". Using a document camera or overhead projector, I display a sheet of paper in which I have typed the term "biotechnology" using a clear, large font such as Cambria, 36pt or Times New Roman, 48pt. As I engage with the term, I model the Think Aloud routine which enables me to make my thinking visible to students as I attempt to make meaning of the term. I verbally state questions and make comments about the term, such as, "this term begins with 'bio' which I know means 'life'...so I know it is going to have something to do with life". As I annotate selected parts of the term, I share my thinking aloud and invite students to comment on my thinking or to make comments of their own, which I transcribe onto the projected sheet of paper.

Later in the course and as we become more familiar with this strategy, I also use the Think Aloud routine as a prereading strategy and way to engage with complex texts with content specific vocabulary of which I anticipate may be a stumbling block for our class. The following is an example of annotations of a journal article entitled, "Bound for Glory" in which the Think Aloud routine was used as a prereading strategy.

After we have become experts in the use of our word wall I switch it up a bit and remove words by covering them up or taking terms off the wall and having students guess which word is missing based on clues I provide. I will also introduce a word of the day in the form of a word scramble and provide clues about the meaning of the word to support students as they attempt to unscramble the mystery word.

As a transition to the next section of our lesson, I invite all students to select a term and complete a QuikSearch of the term using their Smartphone or other device available to our class. Then we have one or two brave volunteers model the Think Aloud routine as they engage with their term and make their thinking visible to the entire class!


10 minutes

Determining word relationships between the Biotech Vocab A to Z Word Wall Terms enables my students to discuss and explain the similarities and differences of each term and dig deeper into the significance of each term. As common practice in all word wall lessons and an important component of the introductory lesson is to invite each student to revisit the term they selected in the Explore portion of the lesson and place the information they discovered on an index card. The term is placed on one side of the card and the definition, description, and possibly the words used in context as in a sentence is written on the other side of the card.

Student form pairs and trade the vocab cards they have selected. In collaborative partnerships or small groups, students share their words with one another and negotiate how the terms words may be related based on the information they gathered about each term. After a specified amount of time, normally about 2 minutes, students regroup and repeat this process by attempting to find the relationship between their term and the new term provided by the new partner.

I find it critical to explicitly model this process by selecting a term and then fully participating in this portion of the lesson as well as overtly displaying the best practice, in regards to behavior, that I expect for my students. I trade cards with students, verbally negotiate the possible relationships between the terms and regroup when our class timer indicates. I believe my participation is directly related to the success of this portion of the lesson and consider it a non-negotiable!


15 minutes

After several rounds of grouping and regrouping, as described in the Explain portion of the lesson, students are instructed to form teams with 3-4 members. I use a number of grouping strategies from what I refer to as Free Choice to Numbered Heads Together as well as Instructor generated teams based on data and/or ability levels. Once student teams have been formed students take a seat and place the three to four term index cards with the term side up on a desk or station.  Students first brainstorm all the possible uses of the terms they have selected in the field of biotechnology. Next, students complete a Quikwrite on the topic of "The Triumphs and Tribulations of Biotechnology" by incorporating one of the 3-4 words selected by students in the small group every two minutes for a total of ten minutes.

A group writing task such as this one is indeed a wonderful strategy for supporting and engaging all levels of students BUT also surfaces all the normal challenges of group work! I have found that offering students large white boards during the drafting of their narratives enables them to quickly edit their writing and continue to move forward thus making progress in the limited amount of time available.

At the end of this portion of the lesson, students display their narratives on the white boards provided. In the past we have used a variety of learning structures to support student teams as they share their compositions such as meeting with other small groups, reading them aloud to the class or conducting a Gallery Walk to visit all of the white boards prepared by each group in our class!


5 minutes

In order to evaluate my students understanding of the wide range of terms we have interacted with in this introductory Word Wall lesson, students are asked to complete an Exit Inquiry which asks them to identify ONE term that may have positive connotation and ONE term that may have a negative connotation in society's view and justify their selections.

Students either record this Exit Inquiry in their laboratory notebooks, on an extra-large Post-It note and post on our classroom anchor chart (a large piece of self-stick chart paper with "Biotech Word Wall A to Z" written at the top) , or on an index card.

I review the cards looking for evidence of the proper use of the terms in context and with a focus on the use higher-level thinking skills as demonstrated in the justifications students have offered. I never assess my students understanding of the terms through isolated vocabulary tests which promote memorization of words rather than genuine understanding of their meaning and role in the biotechnology industry. I find it much more effective to weave assessment of the terms from a particular lesson or unit into larger quizzes or exams which makes the diagnostic more likely to be able to gauge the level of understanding students have of the intersection of many terms in biotechnology!