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The importance of scientific vocabulary

The subject of science relies on a deep understanding of the technical vocabulary. We constantly introduce children to new words of which the meaning is either completely unfamiliar to them, or is different to the everyday use of the term. For example, material, diet and weight.

If we do not ensure children grasp the meaning of the required vocabulary, this can lead to many of the most common misconceptions children have in the primary science curriculum.

The EEF Improving Secondary Science report suggests that to develop scientific vocabulary we should:

  • Be aware of the scientific vocabulary demands of the science topic being taught,
  • Focus on the words which the children really need to understand. A solid understanding of a few words is better than a surface level understanding of many,
  • Teach scientific vocabulary explicitly showing how to use it in differing contexts,
  • Give children the chance to engage with quality scientific texts from a number of sources, for example information books and news articles,
  • Encourage writing about science as this supports learning as the children have to reflect on their understanding, formulate their own ideas, and combine ideas in new ways.

In the TES article ‘Four ways to teach scientific vocabulary at primary level’ Kathryn Horan gives some great examples of how to teach technical vocabulary in the classroom. These are:

  1. To use actions alongside words
  2. Add vocabulary to classroom displays
  3. Play with words
  4. Keep them around.


Read the TES article ‘Four ways to teach scientific vocabulary at primary level’

Choose ONE idea in the article and discuss below how you could incorporate it, to teach tricky scientific vocabulary in your classroom.

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching Primary Science: Physics

National STEM Learning Centre