Research School Network: Frayer models: a tool for explicit science vocabulary teaching Hannah Cox, Evidence Lead for Science at Kingsbridge Research School, on teaching scientific vocabulary


Frayer models: a tool for explicit science vocabulary teaching

Hannah Cox, Evidence Lead for Science at Kingsbridge Research School, on teaching scientific vocabulary

by Kingsbridge Research School
on the

The Problem

Why are the lamps less bright when we add more of them into the series circuit?” I ask my year 8 class. We’d just carried out an investigation into how the brightness of bulb is affected by the number of bulbs in the circuit. At the start of the lesson, I had mentioned the word resistance”.

It’s because they’re less powerful,” answers approximately half the class. I assumed (wrongly) that because students had experienced a keyword before the investigation, they could use it correctly to explain their observations. They had not grasped the concept of resistance just through hearing me talk about it.

This is very likely a common experience for teachers of science, and it raises the question, why and how should we systematically introduce new vocabulary to our classes, so that they have the knowledge of what the word means and how it applies to a science context?

The Guidance

The recently published EEF guidance, Improving primary science” (EEF 2023) guidance aims to encourage teachers to empower students of all backgrounds. It systematically pulls together educational research from across the world and distils it into eight recommendations.

The first recommendation encourages us to Develop pupils’ scientific vocabulary”. As we know, scientific vocabulary can often be confusing and abstract, making it difficult for pupils to fully understand and use.” The guidance report recommends that when scientific vocabulary is introduced, as well as explicitly teaching meaning, we create opportunities for repeated engagement and use over time (pages 7 – 8). Research has shown that this approach improves students’ science reading comprehension, science writing and scientific understanding (Cervetti et al, 2012).

A Tool

A tool that we are beginning to use at Kingsbridge Community College to facilitate this recommendation is the Frayer Model, originally designed by Dorothy Frayer and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin in 1969, for the purpose of vocabulary instruction. They support students to grasp key concepts through comprehensive and engaging word analysis.

Fundamentally, Frayer Models are graphic organisers that are well suited to all stages of science education. The Frayer Model represents vocabulary through multiple means. A keyword appears in the middle of the page, with information about the word in four sections. A classic Frayer model contains a student-friendly definition, essential characteristics, examples and non-examples. Frayer models can either be given to students completed or blank, for students to work on completing themselves.

Personally, my favourite part about Frayer models is that the four sections can be adapted to suit the word itself or the needs of the students. Perhaps if the sections are changed, they no longer become Frayer models but they may become more useful for students. Adaptations could include:

- a section on basic etymology or word family” that encourages students to explore similar words
- a visual representation of the word
- a section containing further information, which might be called digging deeper”

Here is one that perhaps my year 8 students would have benefitted from before carrying out the previously mentioned investigation:

Clean Shot 2023 11 21 at 09 44 49

Once the Frayer models have been used, teachers can then plan in opportunities during following lessons or home learning tasks to ensure these key words, and models, are revisited. This is in line with the Guidance Report’s recommendation to create opportunities to repeatedly engage with the words and use them in different scenarios”. In my department we have trialled using Do it now’ tasks as a tool to facilitate recall and apply information from their previously seen Frayer models.

Taking time out of our engaging, practical, content heavy lessons to focus on explicitly teaching vocabulary can seem burdensome, yet it is vital for learners if they are to be more successful in science learning (Kim et al 2021). The clever science teacher plans when and how to introduce new vocabulary, connects it to the concepts being taught, builds on prior knowledge and systematically revisits it. In doing so, we improve the flow of knowledge between student and discipline. Or lower its resistance.


Cervetti, G.N., Barber, J., Dorph., Pearson, P.D and Goldschmidt, P.G. (2012) The Impact of an integrated Approach to Science and Literacy in Elementary School Classrooms’, Research in Science Teaching, 49 (5), pp. 631 – 658.

Kim, J.S., Relyea, J.E., Berkhauser, M.A., Scherer, E. and Rich, P. (2021) Improving Elementary Grade Students Science and Social Studies Vocabulary Knowledge Depth, Reading Comprehension, and Argumentative Writing: A Conceptual Replication’, Educational Psychology Review, 33 (4) pp. 1935 – 964.

Luxton, K. and Pritchard, B. (2023) Improving Primary Science’, London: Education Endowment Foundation

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