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  • Science has its own language. Some words – like ‘gene’ – are completely new. Other words – like ‘energy’ – are novel uses of familiar words. Words can also be labels for broader concepts – like ‘ecosystem’ or ‘reproduction’.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    The language of science

    Science has its own language. Science terms attempt to explain natural phenomena and are created as new knowledge comes to light. Other terms reflect social and cultural traditions that underpin the interactions between science and society.

    Content vocabulary is an important aspect of science knowledge and understanding. If students are unable to master the meanings of key terms, it is unlikely they will be able to master the underlying concepts. Explicit and direct instruction of content vocabulary is a key component of science education.

    Effective learners do not treat the word as an isolated piece of information, but rather as a part that enables them to develop a complete understanding of the content they are learning.

    Marissa T Cohen

    The Hub has more than 2,600 glossary terms. There are multiple ways to access and use the site’s glossary.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Glossary term pop-up

    Hovering over an underlined word will produce a pop-up box with the glossary definition. Click on the pop-up box to view the full definition and any similar terms.

    Glossary terms within context

    Effective pedagogy suggests that students learn content vocabulary while experiencing or doing science, rather than frontloading a topic by asking students to memorise vocabulary prior to introducing a topic.

    Glossary terms within individual Hub resources are underlined – hover over the word, and a pop-up definition will appear. This enables users to read and process the terms within meaningful contexts. When printing the resource from the site, the glossary terms and definitions are automatically included.

    There are also additional targeted ways for users to engage with the glossary.

    Glossary tab for individual resources

    There’s a glossary tab under the title of most resources. Clicking this tab will provide a list of all glossary terms and definitions in the resource. The terms appear in the same order as they do in the resource. This enables users to locate the terms more easily when they are moving between the resource and the glossary list.

    Users can download the glossary terms found in a resource. Use the ‘Download all’ button to obtain the full list. Alternatively, you can select terms to build your own vocabulary list. Simply click the box next to the term(s) you want to use, then scroll to the top of the page and click on the ‘Download item(s)’ button.

    Both the ‘Download all’ and ‘Download selected items’ lists are converted to .docx files. This format enables educators to edit the text to simplify the language, include additional information, add a quiz or activity questions and upload to Google Classroom.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Glossary terms within a resource

    Clicking the glossary tab, for example in the Relative dating article, under the resource title provides a list of every glossary term that appears within the resource. Users can download the terms or add them to collections.

    Using the glossary as a science dictionary

    You can access the full glossary by using the glossary button on the website’s header or the ‘Go to full glossary’ tab on an individual resource glossary page.

    Once you are in the full glossary, use the search function or browse by letter or symbol. Users can select items from across the glossary letter filters and search results to create bespoke glossary lists for download or to add to collections.

    Adding glossary terms to collections

    Hub users who are signed in can add glossary terms to their collections. You can add a single term by clicking the underlined word within an article and using the ‘Add to collection’ button.

    If you are using the resource’s glossary, use the + button to add a single term. You can add multiple terms by selecting several boxes and clicking on the ‘Add items to a collection’ button at the top. The article Creating collections explains how to sign in and create and share collections.

    There are numerous ways to use the collections tool to promote content vocabulary knowledge. Teachers can create vocabulary lists to share with a class rather than use printed lists – students are welcome to create their own profiles on the Hub too. Share the vocabulary collection link with students or ask students to create their own collections. You can add notes with questions about the terms or links to resources in which the terms appear.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Glossary terms in collections

    It’s easy to add glossary terms to collections. This is a useful way to create content vocabulary lists for students to use and share.

    Need more help?

    If you require more help using the glossary and its associated functions, please just ask the team –

    Nature of Science

    The New Zealand Curriculum’s ‘Communicating in science’ strand promotes the building of scientific language across all levels, resulting in students’ use of accepted science vocabulary, symbols and conventions.

    Related content

    These resources outline a suite of key terms for different contexts that may be helpful. They can be used alongside the glossary to further scaffold learning.

    Many of our Hub topics have accompanying alternative conceptions articles that highlight content vocabulary that often causes confusion – many of the terms fall into the ‘novel use of a known word’ category.

    The article Literacy through science has strategies for building content vocabulary.

    The literacy through science topic has helpful webinars for primary and secondary teachers. Use the filters for this topic to find specific articles and activities.

    Useful links

    Paekupu is an online Māori to English or English to Māori glossary. It covers six subjects – science, mathematics, literacy, visual art, music and performing arts.

    Primary Connections has hints for creating class glossaries to support student understanding and new vocabulary use.

    Teacher Magazine's Practical tips for primary science provides guidance on developing students' scientific vocabulary.

    The Victoria State Government education website has suggestions on introducing scientific language.

    There are equity issues to consider when introducing science content vocabulary. This article from STEM teaching tools looks at issues, considerations and recommended actions.

      Published 6 October 2021 Referencing Hub articles
          Go to full glossary
          Download all