: It’s more than just words Latest blog by Kathryn Hall

It’s more than just words

Latest blog by Kathryn Hall

by Lancashire Research School
on the


Kathryn Hall, experienced primary school teacher and leader, reflects on practical ways her school uses the recommendations from the new EEF Guidance report on Primary Science to explicitly teach and develop the use of scientific vocabulary and terminology.

Y6 pupils at St. Mary’s are learning about the classification of living things. They are asked to sort and then classify a number of animals. Children busily begin sorting the animals into groups based on their similarities. There is a definite buzz in the room as children discuss their choices. They are then asked to classify the animals under the appropriate headings. The room becomes quiet as they ponder this instruction. They look confused and are unsure what they should do. A child asks But isn’t that what we’ve just done?” One word has brought their entire learning to a standstill. This scenario, I can only imagine is a common feature in many classrooms today.

So how do we as practitioners address situations like this when the lack of vocabulary knowledge is clearly hindering understanding?

The new Guidance Report on Improving Primary Science, published by the EEF states that high quality science teaching builds pupils’ curiosity and critical thinking, helping them to build a coherent understanding of the world around them.” It provides six practical recommendations, underpinned by high quality evidence, about how to make meaningful improvements to primary science teaching.


The importance of developing scientific vocabulary in the Primary Classroom.

Without a fluent understanding of scientific language, children will never fully understand the meaning of the concepts they are learning. Within an effective science curriculum, there should be the expectation that Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary will be explicitly taught and appropriate terminology used consistently. There are 2 considerations here for a primary school setting:

- How scientific vocabulary is used by adults
- How vocabulary is taught to and used by pupils.

1. How scientific vocabulary is used by adults

Teachers must seize the opportunity during any modelling to pupils to exemplify scientific terminology as part of their explanations. It is often the Tier 2 vocabulary which is a barrier to pupils understanding as such words can have multiple meanings which alter depending on the context. For example, if we are working with children within KS2 and ask them to identify the function of leaves and roots then the word function’ could cause uncertainty about what is being asked.

We must ensure that scientific vocabulary is not a barrier to the understanding of scientific questions and even more importantly, prevent them from expressing their scientific understanding. Planning the vocabulary which needs to be explicitly taught is vital for success.

2. How vocabulary is taught to and used by pupils.

Recommendation 1b from the EEF Improving Primary Science Guidance Report’ states that practitioners should explicitly teach new words and their meaning’ but what does this look like in a primary classroom?

Consistency in all classrooms is key. Is there a clear, progressive and consistent approach to the teaching of scientific terminology?


There are 4 key strategies to adopt when explicitly teaching scientific vocabulary. These can be referred to as the Vocabulary Quadrant’.


Explicitly teach what a word means. My turn, our turn, your turn.


Making links between scientific concepts. Connect to wider knowledge.


Analyse and unwrap the meaning of the word. The etymology of the word.


Hear it and use it in context.

These 4 strategies when threaded through the science curriculum and used as part of a spaced retrieval practice can really support pupils in demonstrating their scientific understanding in all areas of the science curriculum.


What better way to engage pupils in these different strategies than via the use of games!


One player from each team will act out the vocabulary word. The actor cannot speak or tell how many words. Guessers may pass” if the team gets stuck on a word. If the guessers guess the word correctly, they can mark it as one point. They do not earn any points for missed or passed words.


Similar to Science Charades except this game is drawing the word rather than acting!


Pupils match the end of a domino that has a word on it, with the end of its matching definition. Then, if possible, have pupils try to loop it around into a complete circle.


- Is there a consistent approach to the teaching of vocabulary in my school?

- Is the teaching of Tier 2 and Tier 3 carefully planned to ensure access to all areas of the science curriculum?

- Is there a multi-faceted approach to the teaching of vocabulary?

Useful links:
Working Scientifically – how can we develop independence in primary science?
https://fdslive.oup.com/www.oup.ckClosing the word gap: Science activities for the classroom

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