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Vocabulary Acquisition and Instruction


Content vocabulary is extremely important for students to understand.  I find that this is especially true for subjects like science and social studies. When I introduce a new science topic I always start with the vocabulary. Vocabulary acquisition and instruction is extremely important in getting our students to own and understand the content words.

When I taught fourth grade science I really focused on vocabulary acquisition. So much of the content was more readily understood when students had a good understanding of the vocabulary words. We spent a lot of time at the beginning of a unit on this.

What does vocabulary instruction look like in my classroom?

Today, I will be walking you through how I set up vocabulary acquisition and instruction in my classroom. I will be using my Earth science vocabulary that is available in my TpT store to show the steps I take.

Vocabulary Familiarity

I have the students fill out a table on their familiarity with the words for the topic.  This is a working document that we revisit throughout the study.  Students will add snippets about what they have learned.  I like doing this because it really makes students think about how familiar they are with the words.

This table lists all the words in a chapter/unit/lesson and students have to identify how familiar they are with the word. I also added a column for new information about the word as they work through the unit of study.

Image of vocabulary familiarity table

Vocabulary in Context

The next thing I do is have students read these vocabulary words in context and write their OWN definitions.  This helps our students own these words.  A typical spread in their notebook looks like the pages below.

image of notebook spread

I have the students glue both pages into their notebooks opposite each other. They are able to highlight and mark up the text. Once they have finished reading they will translate the definitions into their own easy to remember meanings.

Below is a close up of these pages.
close up of vocabulary in context page
Close up of definition page

Vocabulary Squares and Cards

After the students complete their work on vocabulary in context we spend some time reviewing the definitions.  Then the students will use their definitions to create word squares for the vocabulary.  In the center they will write the word.   In the top left corner students will write the definition.  In the top right corner students will write characteristics or facts about the word.  In the bottom left corner write examples of the word and in the bottom right corner write non-examples or draw a picture of the word.  Their notebooks will look like this.


Vocabulary word squares
I also create vocabulary cards for the students to use at home while studying or for whole class review.  Sometimes we will use these to play vocabulary Bingo which is usually a huge hit with my students!
Earth science vocabulary cards
Yes, this is a ton of work on vocabulary alone, but by the time we are finished with it my students have a superior understanding for the words and their meanings.  In addition, they also understand the topics better as a whole.
Click below to be taken to my product page on TpT to see all that is included in my Earth Science Vocabulary Acquisition pack!
Overview image of earth science vocabulary acquisition

Want to try it for free?

If you’re interested in this vocabulary acquisition you can check out this free unit on scientific method vocabulary!

Scientific Method Freebie

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    My name is Jen and I’m the face behind Endeavors in Education.

    I have a passion for ELA and science. I am even STEM certified. Now I spend my time hanging with my kids, blogging (endeavorsined.com), and creating for my TpT store Endeavors in Education.

    I’m so happy you’ve joined me on this journey!

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