Strategies for Teaching Reading and Vocabulary
Walker (1989) presents several strategies for the teaching of reading in science. All approaches focus on vocabulary and concept comprehension. With practice, students may use the strategies on their own. Another vocabulary strategy is the Structured Overviews for Teaching Terms, which is covered in this page.
General Guidelines for Teaching Science Vocabulary
The five general guidelines below are quoted from Walker (1989: 134-5).
Semantic Feature Analysis
Semantic feature analysis requires instructor preparation and student participation. First, the instructor and students read the assignment. Then the instructor compiles a list of key terms and concepts from the reading. Third, the instructor divides the list into superordinate and subordinate information. Next, the instructor organizes the information into a grid or matrix, with the superordinate information on one axis and the subordinate information dividing the other axis. The final step calls for student input. Working individually, in groups, or as a class, the students complete the chart. For instance, presence/absence symbols (as in the example below) may be used to indicate relationships among the information. Students may complete the chart on the board, overhead, or on xeroxed handouts.
The Concept Ladder
General and specific (superordinate and subordinate) reading material may be introduced using a concept ladder. Before introducing the procedure to the class, the instructor should identify concepts and terms that lend themselves to this organizational format. In the example below for friction, the instructor arranged the information so that the ladder begins and ends with observable phenomena.
Despite the time required to prepare this strategy, the concept-relationship approach is effective for teaching vocabulary and concepts from science readings. The goal of the procedure is "to write a brief paragraph in which the new term is used three times in slightly different contexts. The first sentence may simply define the term; the second might contrast the new term with one that the students already know, while the third instance could be an example of the concept in a concrete situation. The paragraph is then followed by a single multiple choice item" (Walker, 1989, p. 132). Paragraphs may be displayed on the overhead or on handouts in order to introduce a difficult concept or term.
The Word Card
Information association is stressed in the word card approach. The instructor identifies several details related to a key term or concept. This information is organized on a large card in a hierarchy or array. One "branch" is left open; in this space students add words that associate the term with something already known, such as the term stomach that was added in the example below. Class discussion allows students to explain and justify their choices of associated words. The example shown below is from Walker (1989, p. 133).
Alike and Different
An effective way to teach reading vocabulary is to consider how pairs of terms or concepts are similar and how they are different. The alike-dislike strategy is more verbal than the previous approaches. A pair of terms is introduced to the class. Students work in small groups to develop lists of similarities and differences between the terms. Class discussions, during which each group explains its lists, follow the group activity. Visual learners may wish to organize the lists graphically, such as with a Frayer box (see the Information Organization page of the General-Purpose Learning Strategies Main Stack). Walker's (1989, p. 133) examples are shown below.
A particularly effective approach to learning science vocabulary for visual learners is semantic mapping (also called concept maps or sample word maps). Rather than writing defintions in sentence form, key components of the definition are grouped around the term in order to answer three questions: What is it? What is it like? What are some examples? Semantic (concept or sample word) maps are discussed in more detail in the Organization page of the General-Purpose Learning Strategies Main Stack. An example using biology information is shown below.
Structured Overview for Teaching Science Terms
In addition to Walker's (1989) strategies for the teaching of science reading and vocabulary presented above, the structured overview strategy is designed to help students learn the relationships among science terms and concepts by presenting the vocabulary in "meaningful clusters" (Wolfe and Lopez, 1993, p. 315). The vocabulary clusters take the form of hierarchies (arrays), spider webs, and other graphical organizers. With practice, students should be able to work independently in developing vocabulary overviews.
Wolfe and Lopez (1993) describe five methods of presenting structured overviews during class: overhead projector, sentence strips, note cards and small groups, designated group, and independent work. Each is summarized in this section. Instructor- and student-generated overviews follow.
The instructor develops a structured overview before class. Then, the overhead projector is used to share the overview with the class. Step by step, the instructor introduces the new terms and concepts and builds the overview. Student input is solicited throughout the process.
Bulletin boards, chalk boards, or walls in the classroom are used to present overviews, which are prepared by the instructor in advance. Each part of the overview is written on paper sentence strips, using color coding as warranted. The bulletin board or wall is covered with paper. The sentence strips are added with tape or pins one step at a time in order to build the overview. Lines between terms may be drawn with markers or chalk. Elicit student input during the process.
Note cards and Small Groups
To encourage greater student involvement, break the class into small groups and assign each the task of generating its own overview. Provide each group with the same set of terms to organize into a structured overview. Results are presented to the rest of the class.
As students become more familar with the procedure, groups are instructed to read an assignment, to select terms and concepts, and to create a structured overview. Results are presented to the rest of the class.
Ask students to individually read an assignment and create a structured overview of the important vocabulary terms.
Two examples of structured overviews using science material are shown below.