Practice Brief 66 -- Topics: Equity Instruction Culture

Why you should stop pre-teaching science vocabulary and focus on students developing conceptual meaning first

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Why It Matters To You
  • Teachers should elicit, value, and leverage students’ ways of communicating when observing and making sense of phenomena, rather than front-loading scientific vocabulary.
  • District Staff & PD Providers should help teachers see language as a cognitive tool that students develop over time as they engage in meaningful sensemaking.
  • School Leaders should support the creation of truly multilingual learning environments, where students’ home and heritage languages are valued and used for learning.

What is the Issue?

Many science educators focus on pre-teaching technical vocabulary at the start of the unit to help students become comfortable with science discourse. This approach is especially common with students from historically marginalized communities, in particular emerging multilingual students. However, it is much more productive to support learners as they organically develop language (terms, phrases) that interprets and explains phenomena, rather than asking them to merely acquire terms. Additionally, it is key for equity that educators identify, value, and leverage students’ home languages.



Reflection Questions

  • What strategies could you use to encourage all students, including emerging multilingual students, to express themselves in multiple ways?
  • Instructional materials are not always designed to support students to use multiple languages or forms of communicating. What additions or modifications could you make to your materials to make them more linguistically equitable (e.g., to rubrics)?

Things to Consider

Attending to Equity

Recommended Actions You Can Take


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Work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 Unported License. Others may adapt with attribution. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Opinions expressed are not those of any funding agency.