Monday, November 03, 2003

The Language of Science

Ms. Fielding posted a question about how teachers teach vocabulary, especially in Science, over at From Behind the Teacher's Desk. Here's what I do, which I'm actually quite proud of:

1. My school has a routine called a "warm-up" at the start of every period, intended as a quiet transition to the class and a time for administrative stuff, like passing back papers, copying down homework assignments, etc. I use the warm-up for vocabulary. On Monday, I write three words for the week on the board, along with their definitions. The students have packages of index cards (in ziploc baggies) which they use to make flashcards. The word goes on one side, the definition on the other. On Tuesday, I give them "Sample Sentences" using the same three words. They copy these onto the index cards, beneath the definitions. On Wednesday, they do a short & pathetically easy fill-in-the-blanks exercise with the three words, in their notebooks. On Thursday, they write their own sentences, and on Friday, we have a quiz. Actually, this year, we have a quiz every other week instead of every Friday.

The reasoning behind this is that it takes many exposures to a new word to make it your own (an English teacher told me at least 7 times hearing or using the word, but I've never been able to confirm this). I choose three really crucial Science words that will help them decode the week's assignments, review concepts related to those words, and better understand HS and college science. I don't make them learn the more obscure words; I really think about the words they need. Some words can be picked up haphazardly, but some words are essential to know.

2. When going over each day's warm-up, I emphasize things like Latin & Greek roots that help them decode the words, remember their meanings, and puzzle out new words. Geo, hydro, -sphere, ecto, endo, etc. That's one way that I learned vocabulary, and I hope to give my students the same tool.

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