One of the biggest impediments to students becoming independent learners in Science (or for that matter, in any field) is vocabulary. Students with a weak vocabulary will find scientific texts difficult to comprehend, and will likely disengage early. We’ve spoken about the importance of lexical diversity before, so let’s focus here on what you as a parent or educator can do to help.
Luckily, increasing one’s vocabulary is a relatively straightforward route. The key is exposure. Students must be exposed to words often and in different ways. Research shows that a minimum of six contextual exposures (i.e. not just definitions) are needed for a student to recognize and accurately use a new word.
A few concrete ways to help students improve their linguistic variety:
- Reading: Encouraging students to read at or slightly above their reading level is a great way to teach them new words. In fact, even reading to them will help! Encourage students to read diverse texts, not just fiction.
- Vocab Rich Talk: Having rich conversations with (and around) students, conversation that engages with advanced vocabulary, will keep them in a constant state of vocab-exposure!
- Word Consciousness: Whether reading to students, assigning texts, or simply using new words in conversation, highlight unusual words, and encourage students to point out and discuss words that are new to them.
- Direct Instruction: Actually take time to teach new words to students, especially those you know will pop up in their reading or conversations.
- Use multimedia techniques: Associating novel vocab with mental images is a powerful technique. Especially for science-related vocabulary, show students video or images related to the word, play music and other audio, even get them to draw pictures that are related. And of course, students to use new words in their own sentences (even explicitly in vocab-related exercises).
- Revisit: Make sure to revisit vocab discussed earlier again and again to solidify the new words in students’ minds!
For example, in our science and literacy software, we use “Vocab Cards” for unfamiliar words, which feature audio-visual repetition of key scientific vocabulary, as well as examples of use. We also frequently test student’s knowledge of these words, to insure comprehension and retention.
So get out there and teach you students some words!
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