Building vocabulary knowledge and usage in mathematics and science should not amount to copying definitions in notebooks. Decades of copying definitions has resulted in many students being able to repeat a definition but not show its application in context. A few days or weeks after the test, that word has been forgotten. How can teachers help students retain vocabulary words and understand them in context? We can teach students how to use parts of words to help determine the meaning. Let’s use the word perimeter as an example. The prefix peri means around. The suffix meter refers to an instrument for measuring and recording the quantity of something.
This fence is an example of marking the perimeter around an area. Have students seek examples of words in the environment and take pictures to post on a word wall with related concepts.
Emphasize vocabulary through fun, engaging lessons.
1. What’s on my Back? Place a label with a math or science vocabulary word on each student’s back and have them pair up to ask questions their partner can only answer yes or no to as they try to figure out what word is on their back. They can ask three questions, take notes, then move on to a new partner and ask more questions. They’ll continue until they can guess the word. They can get a new word and begin the process again. This activity builds questioning skills and encourages critical thinking.
2. Flyswatter Give two students flyswatters and have a third student read aloud a definition he or she has written while the two students compete to swat the word defined on the word wall. Involve more students by having them make word cards for the table and use a counter to place on the word card that matches the definition read aloud. Descriptions and definitions should be generated by the students.
3. Remove One Distribute one vocabulary word card to each student. Play some music as they mingle and trade cards. Stop the music and they need to form a group of four. Their mission is to find how their word is connected to the other words so that they don’t get removed from the group. Call upon each person who got removed from the group to see how their vocabulary word may connect with other words across the room. This will help students make connections among concepts and it can also reveal lack of understanding of vocabulary.
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Here are more great activities for getting students engaged in applying vocabulary knowledge: The Language IN Math