A Word About Vocabulary
Two of the Core Principles of Phenomenal Science are “Activity before Concept” and then “Concept before Vocabulary”. These two principles sum up the core of what needs to happen with science instruction in regards to vocabulary and imply a sequence for developing understanding prior to introducing vocabulary. In shifting our science instruction to be more three dimensional as required by the new Michigan Science Standards, students need to learn science by doing science practices. As a result, students should be introduced to vocabulary that they need after they have begun to develop a concept of it through real experiences. during reading of the text, fine for teachers to highlight the vocabulary that students discovered in the investigation experience.
For science vocabulary, it has been shown to not be helpful to pre-introduce or front-load the terms in our instruction. Vocabulary should be introduced as students experience a need for that term - often during an experience, investigation, or sense-making activity. We often use the phrasing "Scientists call that _________." As informational text usually follows this sequence, it makes sense to highlight the terms within it that students might have experienced, seen or heard earlier and help students connect them to the students' real experiences. Since the hands on experiences should happen prior to most reading of informational text in a Phenomenal Science instructional cycle, this is a great reinforcement of both the concept and the term to note them when encountered in the text.
Many teachers have found that having students keep a “Glossary” section in their notebooks is a great way to have students track and define the vocabulary after they have built a concept of it. In this way, students might first write the word on the notebook entry they are keeping for investigation or sense-making when they first are introduced to it, highlight it there. Later, students add all highlighted words to the glossary when it is time for a more formal definition. This more formal definition is often introduced or co-constructed during an Explain portion of an instructional cycle sometimes in conjunction with an informational text or video.
As can be seen this model fits nicely with the Michigan K-3 Literacy essentials which state:
Within PS Units the authors have identified lists of vocab (not exhaustive) that students will probably need for each instructional cycle. These vocabulary lists can be found in the in the Learning Plan Overview for each unit. You can see an example of this on p. 19-20 of Unit 1.3 Learning Plan Overview. The introduction of vocabulary has been described by the process outlined above and can certainly be embedded in the many various read-alouds suggested in the units. Words will also be used on class consensus models, explanations, arguments, and / or other anchor charts such as CQBs, Summary Tables / KLEWs Charts. Planning out child friendly definitions is a wonderful way to anticipate how to introduce the words to students as the students find they need them. Students will have additional opportunities to use the vocabulary in the various experiments, investigations, and books and highlighting these is a good practice for teachers prepare to teach PS units. Students will also have further opportunities to work with the words during use of exploration station, which can be embedded into all instructional cycles.
It is important to note why vocabulary is found in this portion of the Unit Plan. Students will best remember and understand vocabulary when it is introduced in the process of discovering that concept. So as students are investigating the liquid found on the outside of a cold glass of water and drawing their models of this idea, but struggling with what to call it, it is a good time to say something like “scientists call that ‘condensation’.” To introduce terms earlier or front load them takes the discovery out of the power of the students. A great example of this can be seen in the video, “Responsive Talk: How Students Use Vocabulary” from Ambitious Science Teaching.
When students are ready for some more explicit vocabulary work, what are some tools and tasks that can help them further build understanding? Watch “Everyday Language and Science Language” and consider the article “Interactive Word Walls” for some ideas about connecting students everyday experiences with the new vocabulary. Another vocabulary tool example can be found in Phenomenal Science Unit 2.1, see Lesson?? Finally, use the Vocabulary Planning Guide to help you plan your vocabulary instruction for your next unit.
Some other helpful resources: