Scientists Use Precise Vocabulary

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SWBAT create visual representations of scientific vocabulary. SWBAT use examples of scientific vocabulary in context.

Big Idea

The language of science is precise in order for scientists to communicate effectively and efficiently. We need to build language acquisition strategies in our students to allow them to communicate effectively as scientists.


5 minutes

I start the lesson by passing out an index card and having each student write their name at the top. I explain that we are going to watch a short science video and that it will be the students' job to take notes so that they can summarize the main idea of the video when they are finished watching. I don't prep them for the video any more than that, but I am sure to tell them this this will be graded, so they should pay close attention and take all the notes they can.

*What the students don't know is that the video is filled with scientific terminology that none of them will comprehend (nor will I)! At first, they will struggle with note-taking, trying to write down terms they can't spell or understand, with the fear of their "grade" looming over them. Soon, the frustration will turn to fear, knowing this assignment is impossible and not sure what to do next. Finally, their fear will turn to relief, as they realize the students around them are feeling the same exact way. This clip is just long enough to allow them to feel this entire string of emotions.

After watching the video, I ask for student volunteers to summarize the main points in the video. I wait 1-2 full minutes (almost an uncomfortable amount of time) for responses. After providing wait time, I ask the students why no one is willing to share their ideas. Several students will be more than willing to explain that they could not understand the video.  I validate their responses, explaining that, as scientists, it is very important to not only understand, but to be able to use scientific vocabulary accurately and precisely.

I explain that our goal for today is to learn a few scientific vocabulary terms that the students will need to know in order to be able to discuss what and how we learn science in our classroom.


30 minutes

I pass out a copy of the article, Repelling Germs with Sharkskin, making sure NOT to include the "Power Words" listed at the bottom. I ask the students to read the article, highlighting any words they believe they could not explain to a classmate.

*This is more specific than asking them to highlight words they do not know, and I purposely phrase it this way. By asking them to highlight words they don't know, students are more likely to pass over words they don't truly understand, simply because they've heard them before and feel as though they "know" them. This calls attention more to understanding the meaning of a word, rather than just surface familiarity with it.

After students have had time to read and highlight, I have students Turn and Talk, sharing out the words they highlighted and trying to infer their meaning, based on context clues. (SP8: Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicationg Information)  I then provide the "Power Word" list from the bottom of the article, and have students reread the article, using the list as a reference. After a few minutes of rereading, I pull the class back together to discuss how knowing the meaning of the scientific vocabulary changes our understanding of the article.

Next, I introduce the words we will focus on for this unit (below) by writing them on the whiteboard. I explain to them that the words relate to basic scientific procedures we will complete in our experiments as scientists throughout the year. I ask them why it might be important enough for us to spend a whole class period to learn words related to conducting science experiments. I call on students to supply their thoughts, providing validation and/or questions until I am able to elicit from the students that we will need to be able to understand and use these words correctly in order to conduct proper experiment and know what our peers are talking about.

  • hypothesis
  • investigation
  • qualitative data
  • quantitative data
  • variable
  • dependent variable
  • independent variable
  • analyze/analysis
  • procedure
  • trial

I pass out a 2-sided version of the "Own the Word" graphic organizer and assign each student two words to study. The students will work individually to complete the graphic organizer for each word assigned to them.


10 minutes

Once all students have completed the graphic organizer for their words, I have them sit with the students who were assigned the same words as themselves. I assign them the task of discussing each word and their meaning, and have them come to a shared understanding of the meaning of each word and how it applies to science. I walk around the room listening to discussions and asking clarifying questions to help each group reach a consensus, such as...

  • Do you agree with your partner's synonyms? Why or why not?
  • Why is it that you two have very different definition for the same word? What could be the reason?
  • When / how might we use this word in science class?
  • How might someone get confused by the meaning of this word?
  • When / where might you come across this word in the real world? In science?


60 minutes

Now that students have a surface understanding of the definition and usage of the word, it is time to make the think a little deeper! I explain to the students that since they are now experts on the words they have been assigned to, they will create a product to teach others about their terms, what they mean, and how they may be used in science.

Students will have a choice of two different game pieces to create that will help their peers learn and remember the words they have been studying. Their options include creating game cards for 4 Pics 1 Word Game Cards or Balderdash.  I pass out the Game Directions and take a minute to briefly describe each game. 

I have modified the directions slightly so that these can be played in a classroom setting with groups of students, or even as a whole class. However, the overall rules and strategies of each game are very similar to the original.

After explaining, I take a moment to answer any questions from the students, then I point them to the material they will need (white paper, large index cards, colored pencils, and dictionaries), allow them to select a game, and begin creating their cards.


30 minutes

Once cards are made, it's time to play! I collect all of the game cards and check them for neatness, and accuracy.  Cards that are accurate and legible are placed into piles (ideally with different words in each pile) and are passed out to groups of 3-4 students. Since each student has made 2 cards, there are usually enough to pass out 6-8 cards per group. This allows for 3-4 rounds of each type of game. If students make significantly more of one type of game card than another (ex: more 4 Pics than Balderdash), it's not a problem. Both games take about the same type to play, so I just make sure each group has an roughly the same amount of cards.  Students play the word games in their groups. Once they finish playing each game, they pass their cards to the group to their right, allowing everyone to play a second round using a new stack of cards. Some students will get a word they've already had in a previous round, which is not a problem. That just provides more practice with a word that is probably new to them, or at least new within the context of science. I've included some examples of this work.

*Students can play several rounds in one day, or 1-2 rounds each day for several days. How you structure it doesn't matter, as long as they have multiple exposures and practice with each new term. 

Once they have had a chance to practice the words a few times (3-4), I have them write the definition to each word, as well as use it in a sentence related to science,  on the provided word bank. After I check their work for accuracy, they will glue them into their science journals.

As a final wrap-up, I have the students complete the "What do Scientists Do*?" paper in their science journals, writing a sentence or two that describe the practice and the significance of using precise vocabulary in science. This allows them to summarize their learning and provide a place to refer to later if they need additional prompting or support. 


*The "What do Scientists Do?" paper is used throughout the unit. It is best to have students keep it in their science journal or another place where they can return to it throughout each lesson in the unit. We add to it as we build understanding and study each trait of a scientist.