Strategies for Vocabulary Instruction

Part of the Integrating Literacy Strategies into Science Instruction Curriculum Collection.

The abundance of domain-specific, Tier 3 vocabulary terms that are found in complex science texts can present a major comprehension obstacle for students. Teachers are tasked with supporting students in building their knowledge of science vocabulary and enabling them to use scientific terms meaningfully in both discussion and in writing. While the initial instinct may be to pre-empt difficulty by front-loading all or most unfamiliar terms, research suggests that the best approach is to thoughtfully plan the learning sequence that involves students observing or investigating phenomena prior to presenting definitions, and having them construct their own definitions, with teacher support, based on their observations.

When planning to introduce a text, teachers should make decisions ahead of time about how to facilitate science vocabulary instruction. Do any terms need to be pre-taught? If so, what visuals, interactive models, or videos might be helpful? Which terms will the teacher coach students to determine the meanings of based on context?  Are there words that are unfamiliar but not terribly critical in the context of the lesson?  While some of these decisions can be made in the moment, it is useful to plan for introducing new vocabulary prior to the lesson.



These resources were developed with the generous support of The Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation.