Students may enter courses with varying degrees of familiarity with the academic vocabulary and terminology specific to our discipline. As educators, we can provide classroom opportunities to further familiarize them with this vocabulary as well as to practice fluency in-class with peers.
Benefits of Supporting Greater Academic Vocabulary Fluency
It is worth the time and attention it takes to partner with our students in enhancing their academic vocabulary fluency. Some of the benefits include:
- Students get to practice academic vocabulary in a way specific to the discipline (whereas words may have a different meaning outside our discipline)
- Conversely, some skills involved in learning academic vocabulary (for example, analyzing “word roots”) can be a skill that promotes lifelong learning across disciplines
- Students can interact with one another, creating a classroom environment that connects them with each other and allows them to “show what they know”
Spending time during class to get students more familiar with the vocabulary used within a discipline can be helpful. Below are some digital tools that may be used for this purpose.
Quizlet: Quizlet allows users to practice recall or recognition of vocabulary terms using online decks of flashcards. The user can create their own deck of flashcards or use a pre-made deck made by another user (who hopefully created them accurately!).
ThingLink: Using this website, an instructor (or student/team) can connect images, videos, and 360 imagery together on one clickable page. This could be used to create an interactive experience of a vocabulary word or illustrate the relationship between vocabulary terms. Here is a science example regarding the forest food web.
TrackStar: This website allows teachers to create a collection (“track”) of links related to a topic, with some annotation provided for each link. This allows students to view vocabulary words in use across the web and see them in multiple different online contexts. Here is an example for the solar system.
Kahoot.it: Students can see vocabulary questions posted online that they then respond to via their cell phones or laptops, in teams or individually. This can “gamify” the learning of academic vocabulary.
Online Vocabulary Quiz: Canvas allows you to create a quiz involving multiple-choice, fill in the blank, matching, or true-false responses. Low-stakes quizzes such as these can give students incentivized practice in utilizing academic vocabulary.
Helping Students Stay Motivated and Aware of Pacing
The following two online tools can help when implementing analog exercises in-class.
- Random Name Picker – A random name picker tool allows you to call upon a randomized student to share their response to a prompt or question.
- It’s Almost – On-screen timers like “It’s Almost” helps students see how much time remains before an activity will be completed in-class.
These tools thus help students manage their motivation and participation within the pacing of class time.
Below are a few more in-class exercises you can use in building students’ vocabularies.
Use it in a sentence: Let’s look at a statistics example for this exercise. In statistics, students learn to conduct hypothesis testing using data from two samples representing two different populations. They are taught to follow four very specific steps of hypothesis testing, and at step four, make a decision about the finding. Here, the class takes time to have students describe their “decision” in plain English.
For example (let’s assume we are comparing the sense of belonging between males and females here at VU):
Step 1) Null hypothesis: Mean from pop #1 = Mean from pop #2
Alternative hypothesis: two means are NOT equal
Step 2) Level of significance = .05 and t-critical equals 2.201
Step 3) your computed t=2.303
Step 4) you rejected the null hypothesis of “no difference” between the two population means
In statistics language, this means the mean difference between the two populations (males and females) is statistically significant. How would we say that in plain English?
This is where we would ask the class to translate that “foreign language” of statistics. The ideal student response is that, in plain English, it means male and female students at Vanguard have a significantly different sense of belonging.
Let’s assume the mean score among females was 13 and the mean score among males was 14, and we failed to reject the null hypothesis. This then becomes an interesting situation where we say 13=14. Mathematically an awkward equation, but with vocabulary fluency in statistics, it means the difference between 13 and 14 is not significant enough.
Word roots: When introducing vocabulary terms to a class for the first time, it can be helpful to explain how the meaning of the term relates to its “roots” as a word. For example, in psychology, the word “ego-dystonic” can be remembered as “ego” (usually meaning the self, the psyche) and “dys” (which usually means some form of dysfunction or something unharmonious, discordant, out of sync). Thus, “ego-dystonic” means that the person is experiencing symptoms that seem “out of sync” for their own psyche. For example, the person knows that something is amiss when they’re experiencing the ego-dystonic symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Worksheets: Although it can take some more “prep work” time at the front end, creating a creative worksheet can be a memorable and interactive way for students to practice the vocabulary they’re learning in a course. See this example using the “Winnie the Pooh” characters to learn some Developmental Psychology vocabulary about middle childhood. It helps to review the recommended answers afterward, calling on randomized students to share their answer.
Academic vocabulary may be very familiar to us as instructors, but it may be relatively new to our students. Thankfully, there are many digital and online tools available to familiarize students with this vocabulary, give them practice with it, and facilitate their interaction around it.