Do your students struggle to learn vocabulary for your class? Science can be very vocabulary heavy and sometimes there is no way around it. It's even more frustrating when you have to teach two different words that mean the same thing, because you aren't sure which will show up on the exam (ie: producer and autotroph). I've found in my teaching experience that having students copy vocabulary definitions out of the textbook at the beginning of a unit isn't the most effective. Front-loading all the vocabulary may stick for about a week, but they will forget it over the long run. Here are some ways I incorporate new vocabulary into my classroom while ditching the vocab sheet:
1. Incorporate them into your Notes
The first thing I do when teaching new vocabulary is incorporate them into my notes. I have students take notes about once a week, and the vocabulary should come organically throughout the lesson and discussion. (I teach at an AVID school, so we use Cornell notes).
2. Make students say the words verbally
While I am giving notes and we are learning new vocabulary, I make students say the words out loud with me. This is HUGE for your ESL students, so don't skip it! Even if you teach high school and you are thinking "they'll never do that..." trust me, they'll do it. They would rather practice saying it correctly than look silly pronouncing it wrong in front of their peers because you didn't give them an opportunity to practice. In class it usually looks something like this:
Teacher: "Here is a new vocabulary word (shows word up on the board). Anyone want to try and guess how it is pronounced?"
Your Most Talkative Student: "Auto-troffff?"
Teacher: "Good one! It's pronounced autotroph. Can everyone repeat after me? Autotroph" (I point at myself when I say it)
Teacher points at class
3. Prefixes and Suffixes
One way to help students remember vocabulary is by breaking down the prefixes and suffixes while you teach it to them. If you are teaching the vocabulary word phototropism, break it down into photo- (light) and trop- (to change). Here is a handy reference sheet you can print and have students keep in their binders.
4. Practice them for Bellwork
Every day when students come in, we begin class with a bellwork question or two. The question usually asks students to recall something we learned the day before, and they can pull out their notes to look up the answer. The key here is repetition- they are seeing the new term multiple days in a row.
5. Make a Word Wall
One way to help visual learners is by having a vocabulary word wall in your classroom. Each time you learn a new word, add it to the wall (bonus points if you include pictures next to each word... your ESL kids will thank you). Having visual clues and seeing them daily really helps students. You can make your own pretty easily in powerpoint or even hand write them on notecards. You might also want to download this freebie from my friend over at Biology Roots to get you started!
6. Anchor Charts
Another great tool for visual learners are anchor charts. Anchor charts allow students to have a visual representation of a concept and "anchor" their learning. I'm not the most creative or artistic so these aren't my thing... but some teachers rock them! (If you are on instagram, check out @The_weird_science_teacher, she is the anchor chart queen!)
7. Concept Maps or Thinking Maps
Concept maps and thinking maps take the visual aspect a little further by having students strategically map out the concept. A lot of textbooks offer concept maps with their teacher resources, so that is a great place to start. You can also try thinking maps (if you haven't heard of them, you can read up here) or even create your own with an online website. If your students are Google savvy, they could make their own in Google drawings.
8. Play Vocabulary Games
We play a lot of games in my classroom, but I promise they are all educational. Games bring up the excitement (especially if you have rewards for winners) and allow students to review vocabulary terms before you test them. Some of my favorites are:
9. Computer Games
More games! Technology can be a great tool when wanting to create or play review games. Kahoot is always fun and easy to use, along with sites like Gimkit or my personal favorite, quizlet live.
10. Crossword puzzles
I am not a huge fan of word searches as review activities (they don't really require any critical thinking) but I am a fan of crossword puzzles. A simple google search on your topic should pull up some options, or you can make your own by typing in your words and clues on sites like this one.
I hope you can pick one or two of these options and use them in your classroom! If you have any other vocabulary retention tips, please drop them in the comments!
Since I started teaching, I always got my students trained pretty quickly to start working on bellwork when they came in to class. It is a great way for them to have a few minutes to settle down, remember what we learned the previous day, and also gives me time to take attendance. One thing that I didn't start until recently was using exit tickets. I mostly didn't use them because I wasn't prepared. By not being prepared, I mean I didn't have set questions ready to go. I didn't like the generic tickets of "one thing I learned today was..." and "one thing I'm still confused about is..." because I feel like it didn't give me any concrete information or data and half the time students left them blank. I really wanted the students to SHOW me that they understood the concept.
Now that summer is here I've had time to create exit tickets for all my biology units. I'm really looking forward to having them done and ready to go. At the top of each ticket is a set of questions that deals with the new concept the students learned about. At the bottom there is a place for students to self assess themselves.
Here are 4 reasons why I think exit tickets are beneficial to use in the classroom:
1. Formative Assessment for the Teacher- Do you truly know where all your students are in the learning process? Are you giving a summative assessment when your students aren't ready? One of the best quotes I have heard regarding assessment is "How are you rewarding students at their best, not punishing them at their worst?" That really spoke to me. The use of exit tickets allows me to really hone in on which students needed help before we moved on to new concepts.
2. Formative Assessment for the Student- It's good for you as the teacher to know where your students are in the learning process, but it's even better if your students know where they are too. How often as a college student did you walk into a test not having any clue what would be on it? What would they focus on? Did you study the wrong things? Thoughtfully prepared exit tickets allow students to identify exactly what they already know and where there are learning gaps.
3. Increased test scores- After students turn in exit tickets and you sort through them, what do you do with them? Do you group them into piles? Do you recycle the ones that have mastered the content so you can focus on the lower students? I think you should pass them back, even though they aren't necessarily graded. This allows students to review them before a test and feel confident about what material they have mastered and what they need to study for. When students have a clear understanding of what to study for, test scores will increase! (Side note: I generally let students use notes on tests. You can read about that here).
4. Be Better Prepared for Evaluations- When I walk into my teacher evaluation conferences, I know I will be asked these two questions without fail: Do I have data to show how each of my students are doing in class? and how do I allow my students to self-assess themselves? Exit tickets are a great way to answer both of these questions. Explain how you formatively assess your students and allow students to self-assess themselves and look for gaps in their learning. Following the use of exit tickets, explain your methods of intervention before the summative assessment. I think your evaluator will be impressed with your answers!
I've created tickets for all the biology units I teach. If you'd like to try out a few for FREE, click here!
I know the term "open note test" makes some teachers shudder. Many teachers are completely opposed to this idea. I get it. We love our content areas and want students to retain the information and really know it. How dare students not remember information from my AMAZING lesson on cell membranes?! This is how I picture my students going home to tell their parents about today's science lesson:
But seriously, as engaging as I think my lessons are, studies have shown that students only retain 30-40% of information they see and hear. That leaves 60-70% of the information to be forgotten. I want my students to use their resources in order to become more familiar with that information they would normally just forget. Here are a few reasons why I let my students use notes on tests:
It's April. Sigh. If you live in the US, you are likely experiencing testing season. Between ACT, SAT, and state exams, it seems like the entire month is taken. Kids are burned out and teachers just want to start teaching again. Students have to be quiet when they finish testing which can be a struggle no matter which age group you teach. If your school is like mine, students aren't allowed to be anywhere near their phones when they are done testing. As much as I would love to see them whip out their favorite book, the last thing many of them want to do is read when they just finished a 3 hour test. Here are some ideas to keep them quiet until everyone else is finished testing:
1. Print out sudoku pages. The first few times I did this I realized many students had never done a sudoku puzzle before, so you might need to teach them. But your left-brained students will have fun working on them! You can print them for free by clicking here.
2. Word Searches- Check out this website where you can print pre-made word searches or even create your own.
3. Coloring Pages- This is my personal favorite stress-relief activity. I love printing out Mandala images and letting my creativity run wild. You can find free ones here, or I've even seen books of them at the dollar store. You can just buy a book and make copies for your students.
4. Extreme Dot-to-Dot- These will take your students quite a bit of time! Unfortunately I haven't found free ones online that are very good, but the books are inexpensive on amazon's website (just search for extreme dot to dot). I have one that I make copies from and the kids love figuring out what the image is.
5. ABC Books- I know this sounds a little elementary, but middle school students enjoy it. Give students 14 pages of paper, have them fold in half, and staple on the edge like a book. Have them write one letter of the alphabet on each page. Then, they have to choose a vocabulary word that is specific to your content area, write the definition, and make a picture. Since I teach science, they might choose acid for A, biotic for B, catalyst for C, etc. It is a great way to brush up on vocabulary from the year.
6. Write a thank-you note- Since teacher appreciation day is coming up, sometimes I have my students pick their favorite teacher at school and write them a thank you note. Then I have the notes delivered on teacher appreciation day. It will truly brighten those teacher's day to read them!
7. Hidden Pictures- Remember the hidden pictures in the highlights magazines when you were little? Well you can print them! Head over to highlights website and print off a few. Are they intended for little kids? Yes. Will your secondary students still love them? Yes.
8. Crossword Puzzles- Here is a website that has pre-made puzzles, or check out this site where you can make your own.
9. Metal Mind Teasers- This one isn't my favorite only because it makes a little noise. If you head to a local dollar store, you will probably find the little metal puzzles that students have to separate by twisting and turning the pieces. Some students manage to do them quietly, but a few like to make it an ordeal, so be careful on who you hand them to.
And last but not least.....
10. Sleep- If your school allows it, let that tired kid put their head down. Seriously. Studies show that teenagers don't get nearly as much sleep as they should. After a 3 hour test, let that brain rest.
Any other fun ideas to keep kids quiet after testing? Drop them in the comments!
Have you heard these statements before?
"Why are we doing writing, this isn't English class!"
"Do I really have to write in a complete sentence?"
Believe it or not, in science class we integrate almost all of the content areas. The key to this integration is making the learning interesting so you don't hear the complaints. This year I am teaching a biology class of all English language learner students. I not only have to worry about teaching the students science concepts and vocabulary, but also getting them to read and write proficiently so they can pass the state language exam. It's a lot of pressure! I decided one way to get students to write more in my class was to give them fun writing prompts.
I came up with 10 prompts per quarter, and would assign them periodically for homework the night BEFORE the concept was taught. Why before? I didn't want to read regurgitated class notes. I really wanted the students to think critically about the science concept and be able to assess their background knowledge. I gave students a grade for completing the homework assignment, but didn't grade them on the accuracy of the content knowledge. It is also a great way to uncover misconceptions and address them throughout the lesson. As I started using these prompts I saw my student's writing skills improve and vocabulary increase. I have since not only created writing prompts for biology, but for many science content areas.
Did you know you can download my observation and inference writing prompts for FREE by signing up for my email list? You will get a once a week teacher tip for freebie, no spam. Sign up in the box below to get these writing prompts sent straight to your inbox!
Other writing prompts that I have created that can be purchased from my TpT store can be seen below:
Hear what customers have to say:
"LOVE this resource! The prompts are perfect for an intro to a unit to get the kids engaged in the new concepts and they are also perfect for the end of a unit as a formative assessment."
"Worth every penny! I wish I had these at the beginning of my unit! I will use them ALL next year for sure!" -Christie O.
"Love these prompts! Great way to get my students to think "deeper" about our class lessons." -Courtney J.
You're giving a big unit test in a few days so you hand the students a study guide. A handful of the students dive in and get it done, while the rest answer about 3 questions and quit. You remind them that it is worth points, so the not-so-interested students wait for their neighbor to finish, take a picture of the completed study guide on their phone, and copy it later. Does this sound like your classroom? It happened in mine all the time. I needed to find a way to get students to WANT to review the material, and study guides weren't cutting it. I started using a variety of review games and puzzles before tests and it has made a world of difference. Student engagement has risen, test scores have risen, and most importantly teacher headaches are a thing of the past. Here are a few games I like to play:
Bingo- This is a great way to review vocabulary. I especially love it for my ecology unit since there is so much vocabulary for students to learn. It's a cinch to create your own bingo cards! Head over to http://osric.com/bingo-card-generator/ and type in your vocabulary words. Choose how many boards you want generated, hit the generate bingo cards button, and voila! For the bingo card markers, I take old construction paper or scrap paper and cut it into small squares. Each student will need about 25 of the little squares to cover their board with during the game. Now the key to this game is to not just call out the words. I call out the definition and make the students cover up the correct word. It will keep them thinking and engaged at the same time. Check out my bingo cards HERE.
Tarsia Puzzles- Another fun way to review vocabulary. In this activity, students pair up the matching term with it's definition and put them together like a puzzle (see image below). It will take a little time to cut out the pieces prior to playing, but you can use them over and over again. Check out my puzzles HERE.
Snakes and Ladders- I like using this game format when doing a trivia review. If you played chutes and ladders when you were a kid, this is basically the same format. The only catch is you need to answer a question correctly before being able to roll and move. If you land on the bottom of a ladder you get to climb up, and if you land on the head of a snake you have to slide down. If you purchase my pre-made versions, you just need the library to print the game boards on large paper and get some dice and game pieces. Students LOVE playing board games, so check them out!