Increase The Vocabulary In A Science Classroom

Teachers should use creative methods to increase science vocabulary.

Each subject area has its own unique vocabulary, but science leads the pack when it comes to specialized terms. Elementary students should accumulate a cache of vocabulary words so they are not overwhelmed in middle school science class. These specialized terms can be particularly difficult for ELL (English Language Learner) students. Science is based on hands-on activities; therefore, it’s best to attach the vocabulary after students have had experience with the concepts. Focus on key words so the new expressions don’t become overpowering. Teachers can take basic steps to increase the vocabulary in their science classrooms.


1. Write vocabulary words on a “science word wall.” This is effective for any grade level. Dedicate one section of the classroom to terminology. Focus on words from your school district’s science curriculum. Each word should be accompanied by a simple definition and a diagram or picture. Students should keep matching journals that can be used for study and word games.

2. Play word games patterned after popular game shows. Download and customize PowerPoint templates for games such as “Jeopardy” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” on the Internet4Classrooms website. You can also choose from the variety of premade programs Fayette County Public Schools have designed for elementary science. Divide your class into teams to play these games.

3. Label the science equipment in your classroom. Attach small note cards to items such as microscopes, beakers and anatomical models. Students will consistently be exposed to the terms. This will particularly help struggling ELL students. When you view a science video in class, “label” it as well by turning on the closed-captioning feature.

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4. Engage students in a quick, quiet vocabulary activity at the onset of the class period. You will have a few minutes to take care of routine duties such as taking role, as students are exposed to science vocabulary pertinent to the unit of study. Make your own crossword puzzles and word searches. You can create customized word games using Discovery Education’s “Puzzlemaker.”

5. Demonstrate relationships between old and new concepts using graphic organizers. Visual cues use minimal vocabulary, yet they help students grasp concepts. Venn diagrams, flow charts, grids and graphs are particularly effective.

6. Visit the school’s computer lab and allow students to play science vocabulary games. Houghton Mifflin has predesigned word finds, crossword puzzles and eWord games to accompany each chapter of its science books in grades one through six. The Jefferson Lab houses a “Science Vocabulary Hangman” game. Students can choose from a variety of science topics. Teachers can create their own unique word lists on this site as well.

7. Utilize “read-aloud books.” These books promote critical thinking skills. They engage the students and provide background knowledge. Teachers and students alike can make vocabulary connections through this type of literature. You will also be crossing curriculum lines by introducing the students to another genre of writing.