science vocabulary ideas

3 Easy Steps for Teaching and Reviewing Science Vocabulary

Looking to build your students’ science vocabulary for each standard of the school year? Vocabulary is the best way to give students a better schema or background knowledge on a topic before exploring the concept. Working with the key terms through the week helps make the connections between words and what they observe in the labs. Science vocabulary is also important for tests, retaining what they learn, and having a foundation to build on for future learning.

Vocabulary increases knowledge. Acquiring vocabulary knowledge flows in a cycle through the years. Students learn new science vocabulary which leads to an improved capacity to acquire new information and new vocabulary words. Understanding new vocabulary words leads to growing capacity to acquire more new information… and so on.

Much of the terminology we use in science is not used in everyday conversations or reading. That’s what makes vocabulary instruction so important in content areas such as science. Science vocabulary is key in building a foundational knowledge and schema for new science information to connect to. Science is a subject that relies on students understanding terms and concepts. Vocabulary also plays a big role in both fluency and comprehension when reading informational texts in science. Not only does vocabulary help students read, but it helps them communicate using the correct terms.

Vocabulary is important for all students, but is an even bigger deal for our language learners. Across the board, we need strong vocabulary understanding in our science classrooms for students to make progress and master our science standards.

I have use a 3 step system for introducing and reviewing vocabulary in your science classroom that does not require extra

1. Build It!

The first step of vocabulary instruction is the introduction to science vocabulary blended into the science lesson. This is where we start building the knowledge of each key term. I choose 3 main key terms to cover with each of my one week lessons, but you can use as many words as you need. My goal for building vocabulary is to create a working knowledge that builds through the first 2-3 days.

    This is where the Word Wall Builder Chart, a teacher favorite among my resources, comes into play.

    Before moving into the science lesson, complete column one of the Word Wall Builder Chart. This is a way to get vocabulary on their mind and to help students identify their own misconceptions as they learn more through the week. Word Wall Builder Charts are my favorite way to make your word wall more interactive and useful. I always provide printable versions for students to record their own answers, plus a class version to post in the room through the week. You can see below that I use sticky notes to make my chart paper reusable each week.

    Day one: Introduce the word wall (or key terms) for the week. Ask students what they think the words mean and let them know they will find out the real definitions this week! Create a chart on the board to record the word wall activities for the week.

    Day two: Complete the second column of the word wall builder as a class. Ask students to give their new definitions of the word wall words based on what they read in their informational text.

    Day three: Complete the last columns of the word wall builder as a class. Write the actual definitions of the word wall words and a have the students help you illustrate each word.

    Have students record the word wall chart for the week into a word wall journal. They can record this on notebook paper, in their science notebook, or you can print the Word Wall Chart handout for them.

    Add the key words from your reading to your classroom word wall, however you display your word wall.

    I love this tool so much and want you to have the printable chart with instructions. You can grab the FREE download below.

    2. Work With It!

    The second step of vocabulary instruction is working with each word. Giving students opportunities to practice using their words and think about their words will help solidify their learning and commit it to memory. Plus, it gives you some quick informal assessments to gauge how mastery of the standard is coming along for each student. There are a few different ways that I like to do this.

    You just read a bit about how you can use the informational text with the vocabulary to build students’ knowledge of each word. A summary writing using the key terms is a perfect way to continue learning the vocabulary. After reading the informational text, students can practice using these new words while writing about what they learned in their reading. Having the key terms listed also helps give students a great starting point for their quick write.

    Vocabulary matching cards give students a way to practice their vocabulary definition knowledge individually or as a game with a partner. These are great to keep on hand through the week and the year for spiral review and cumulative practice.

    Vocabulary practice pages are a quick and easy way to fit in some more vocabulary word work. You can use these as homework assignments, classroom assignments, science day starters, exit slips… the possibilities are endless.

    A word wall cards and vocabulary pages are included in each complete lesson set that I have available.

    There are several other vocabulary activities to review and have fun while doing it! I will give you some more ideas at the end of this blog post.

    3. Review It!

    The third step (and my favorite step) of vocabulary instruction is to review it! Reviewing vocabulary is an important way to close out a lesson. But, don’t stop there. Spiral review your science concepts throughout the year by making a weekly cumulative science vocabulary review. My favorite way to do this is by playing Science Says!

    My first year teaching, I created movements for each vocabulary word, each cycle, and each process that students needed to know well.

    We played Science Says with these words/phrases and motions, helping students review every day until test day!

    The moment that my heart melted with pride and joy is when I saw several students doing their Science Says motions while working through questions on their STAAR test. I cried a few times during those months of getting my new class ready for that test, but these were my first happy tears. 

    Since that year, I worked Science Says into the weekly lessons so they learned the motions as they came up in the curriculum and practiced the previously learned ones. 

    It fits perfect into the closing minutes of a lesson or spare time throughout the day. And, every year the kids loved playing this game! Plus, any time you can add movement into learning, kids will connect and remember! Great brain break idea, too.

    This is the easiest way to get students test ready from day one of the school year!

    Bonus activities:

    Okay, I promised some more fun ideas to work with vocabulary words. So here are some of my favorites.

    Concept Characters

    You can see an example of a concept character below. Give students a word (or let them choose from a list). They will study the definition and application of that word (or concept) to create a personification of this word. This is so much fun! And, it works well to build vocabulary and to assess knowledge of a concept.

    Science Vocabulary Word Art

    You can see two ways to do this in the picture below. Students can illustrate the word with images that represent the definition of the word. Or, they can use descriptive words and phrases to create the shape of the word. This is so easy to do on any sheet of paper or in their science notebook. Post these around the room or in the hall to show off student work and give students visuals to see the words and commit them to memory!

    And More…

    There are so many ways to make vocabulary engaging, fun, and effective!

    I put my BIG collection of vocabulary activities together and teachers have loved having this resource on hand.

    “This was very engaging for students and great ways for them to practice vocabulary using a variety of techniques that are game like.”

    TPT Seller

    “LOVE the vocab word display and how it aligns with the Science of Reading for vocab instruction! So many activities to choose from! My kids will be using vocab notebooks to go along with this!”

    Shanice H.

    And, here are the 58 Vocabulary Activities included in the Vocabulary Template Bundle!

    1.Word Wall Cards Template – Type or write the words on the cards, print, and post on your classroom word wall.

    2.Word Wall Builder Chart  – Instruction page included.

    3.Write the Room – Add a hint (definition or image) in the left column and send students around the room, or word wall, looking for each hint in their chart. Use your word wall or hide words around the room.

    4.Writing with Key Terms – Add vocabulary from the lesson and have students write an informational text, summary, or story using the words.

    5.Vocab Boxes – Students can complete the boxes to demonstrate understanding of the words. Two per page can be separated into half pages.

    6.I Have…Who Has? – Game rules on template.

    7.Science Says – Game sample and template provided

    8.Vocab Practice Page

    9.Vocab Matching Cards

    10.Memory Game with Vocab Matching Cards

    11.Go Fish with Vocab Matching Cards

    Word Art (3 types)
    13.Movie Poster

    14.Vocab Roll & Review

    15.Vocab Spin & Review

    16.Vocab Bingo

    17.Vocab Comic Strips

    18.Spin-A-Hint Guessing Game

    19.Vocab Thumb Ball – Using a wet erase marker, write hints for your vocabulary words (definitions or illustrations) all over a beach ball. Throw the ball around the room and when someone catches it, they have to define the word that is described under their right thumb.

    20.Vocab Tumbling Tower – Paint then ends of blocks from a tumbling tower game with dry erase or chalkboard paint. Write vocab words on the end of the blocks for each game. To pull a block out of the stack , students must define the word.

    21.Vocab Treasure Hunt – Spread vocab word coins around the room so students can take turns (or racing in two groups) picking up coins. They have to define the word to keep the coin.

    22.Vocab Choice Board

    23.Crossword Puzzle (with definition or illustration as hints)

    24.Doodle Notes

    25.Word Sorter Pockets

    26.Quick Draw (Dry Erase Game) – Print and Laminate the board for multiple uses. Students will use dry erase markers to write the word you define. Say “show me what you know!” and students will hold up their board for you to see who knows the word.

    27.Character Quote Clouds (use the word)

    28.Board Game (roll and define to move)

    29.Vocab Song Creation

    30.Vocab Puzzles (Two Templates)

    31.Vocab Flower

    32.Stoplight Vocab Self Assessment – use clips or small sticky notes with the vocabulary words. Laminate the stoplight and use dry erase marker for the words.

    33.Picture Word Wall – Type or write the words on the cards and add an image, print, and post on your classroom word wall.

    34.Draw the Room – Add a hint (definition or word) in the left column and send students around the room to find and draw the correct image for each hint on their paper. Use your word wall or hide picture word wall cards around the room.

    35.Vocab Dominoes

    36.Vocab Mini Books – Works for Interactive Notebook or as stand alone mini books.

    37.Vocab Pocket Folders – Works on their own, but can be glued into a notebook.

    38.Anchor Chart with Labeled Parts – (ie: parts of an insect) Use the vocabulary words to label the picture. Make the picture something that encompassed all the grouped vocabulary words.

    39.Word Search with definition or picture as hint.

    40.Act It Out! Guessing Game

    41.Interactive Read and Act – (Act out Word when you read it in a text!) Printable reference chart template will help students plan their actions and remember what to look for.

    42.Word Poem (Haiku)

    43.Classifying with Vocab Words – have students sort a selection of objects or observations between two or three vocabulary words. This gives a hands-on approach to applying vocabulary words to what they are learning. (i.e. sorting Living/Nonliving or Reflection/Refraction) Two options plus a Venn diagram are provided.

    44.Vocab Strips – Works great for an exit slip or homework activity!

    45.Letter Tile Game – Instruction card included.



    48.Vocab Reader

    49.All About the Word Chart

    50.Vocab-oo Game – (Played similar Taboo)

    51.Vocab Character (Personify the Word)

    I hope this helps give you some ideas for science vocabulary instruction and review!

    Happy Teaching!


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