1 Making sense of difficult words

Science has a specialised and technical language that makes it a unique curriculum subject. There are three main types of problems faced by students in learning scientific vocabulary:

  1. Unfamiliar words: Scientists often use scientific words for familiar objects. For example, a scientist will say ‘aqua’ instead of ‘water’, ‘photo’ instead of ‘light’ or ‘micro’ when they mean ‘small’. Many of these words are then put together to make complicated, compound words, like photosynthesis or microscope.
  2. Specialist meanings: Many words in science have everyday meanings as well as specific scientific meanings, words such as energy, conduct or potential. Students often get confused about which meaning to use and need to be taught the accepted scientific meaning for different contexts.
  3. Difficult concepts: There are many non-technical words used in science like ‘illuminate’, ‘factor’ or ‘theory’. Teachers often assume that their students know the meaning of words like these. This is because they are easy to read. But often these words refer to complex difficult scientific concepts. Students may only have a partial or incorrect understanding of these abstract concepts.

Why this approach is important

2 Decoding complicated compound words