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Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets


A thorough knowledge of content vocabulary has never been more important. Its overall importance to overall school success and reading comprehension is recognized by many (NICH, 2000). Vocabulary, the knowledge of words and word meanings, is essential for students to read increasingly demanding texts with comprehension (Kamil and Hiebert, 2005). The Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets from Mentoring Minds provide meaningful learning opportunities for students. Systematic instruction of content vocabulary helps build the essential background knowledge needed for student success in science. A deep knowledge of science vocabulary provides a foundation for skill building, problem solving, and critical thinking. The definitions found in these 175-card sets help students understand science vocabulary taught at each grade level. Printed on 8.5” x 5.5” sturdy card stock, the vocabulary term is on the front of the card and the definition on the back, allowing flexibility of use. A graphic and a sentence is given with the definition. A Motivation Science Word Play Activities Book with Teacher Guide is included with each card set. The book includes strategies for teaching content vocabulary, formative assessment ideas, and approximately 100 games and activities that can be used with individual students, with a small group, with an entire class, or on a word wall.

Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets are a complement to any science program. This educational resource for Levels 1–5 identifies critical science terminology that students will encounter as they learn to speak the “language of science.” Essential science content vocabulary is identified, accompanied by a definition, a sentence associated with the definition, and a graphical representation. The images bring ideas and structures to life in ways that definitions alone sometimes cannot. The card sets used with the Word Play Book incorporate engaging activities while integrating important process and communication skills that meet the diverse learning needs of students. These activities guide students to high levels of thinking, enhancing vocabulary meaning with increasing depth and complexity.

Research on vocabulary substantiates the necessity of providing systematic vocabulary instruction due to the following conclusions: a relationship exists between vocabulary and achievement; comprehension improves when students have a direct connection between the word and word meaning; some vocabulary is specific to the content of a subject and must be taught in context; and fluent use of vocabulary is vital to student achievement. When students are engaged in short periods of learning followed with time to process the learning, then students are more likely to connect their learning to background knowledge (Jensen, 2005).

Mentoring Minds seeks to design products for educators that lead to student success and are based on research. The Science Product Development Team sought to implement findings from research as they worked collaboratively to develop the Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets. The purpose of this vocabulary product is to increase the performance of students and assist educators as they strive to improve vocabulary instruction in science.

The ability of students to achieve in science and math content areas is dependent upon language (Buxton, 1998; Lee & Fradd, 1998). Both science and math require specialized vocabulary. Therefore, mastering content-specific vocabulary can be a challenge for all students, especially when there are some everyday words with different meanings in the math and science disciplines (Carlson, 2000). In the science cards, there are words that have multiple meanings, but the meanings vary by grade level (e.g., solution, volume, construct). There are also words that have different meanings in science than in math or the real world (e.g., variable, behavior, function). No one can depend on the assumption that students will learn the necessary vocabulary by chance. All students need and benefit from direct vocabulary instruction (Gunning, 2003; Vacca, Vacca, Cove, Burkey, Lenhart & McKeon, 2003). The values of providing a systematic approach to teaching content vocabulary are many.

Vocabulary refers to words students need to know to communicate effectively. Vocabulary takes two forms: oral vocabulary and reading vocabulary. When we speak or listen, oral vocabulary is used. Reading vocabulary is words we use or recognize in text. Vocabulary plays an important role in comprehension of print. A word that is not part of a student’s oral vocabulary causes difficulty in grasping the meaning of what the student is reading. The National Reading Panel (2000), after an extensive research review, indicated effective instruction allows for both incidental and planned instruction that includes a variety of methods for acquiring new vocabulary and extending the depth of vocabulary learned.

Students have to understand vocabulary to understand the academic content they encounter in school. Research indicates that students must experience a variety of activities and engage in multiple exposures with vocabulary to acquire words and their meanings (Marzano & Marzano, 1988; Stahl, 1999; Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2002). The word card sets enhance vocabulary meaning and promote deeper thought about the identified vocabulary terms, encompassing findings from research (Medin, Goldstone & Markman, 1995; Newby, Ertmer & Stepich, 1995; Chen, 1999; Chen, Yanowitz & Daehler, 1996; Marzano, Pickering & Pollock, 2001.

The findings of Stahl and Fairbanks (1986) revealed that when specific vocabulary from academic subject areas is selected as the focus of instruction, the result was a 33 percent increase. Therefore, it appears when students are taught content vocabulary at each grade level, students have an excellent opportunity to acquire the academic background knowledge they need to understand the subject area content. Teaching content vocabulary using a systematic approach appears to be a powerful tool for student success (Marzano & Pickering, 2005). Furthermore, research firmly documents that academic background knowledge has an effect on academic achievement. Any intervention for the achievement of students should identify increasing students’ content vocabulary knowledge through direct instruction as a leading priority (Marzano, 2004). These conclusions form the foundation for the development of the vocabulary product Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets.  

When students read or study about topics, they understand or relate to what is being studied if a basic vocabulary foundation exists. When this background knowledge is non-existent, difficulty is encountered when information is read or heard. Evidence indicates that some students may have gained the background knowledge needed through exposure at home and other experiences. Other students might come to school lacking such experiences. Consequently, gaps in learning appear and as time progresses the gaps might widen. Thus, Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets are a tool teachers might use to develop or reinforce essential science vocabulary. The Word Play Book offers meaningful vocabulary practice opportunities for students to work individually, as partners, in centers, in groups, in teams, or as a unified whole class group to develop, review, and reinforce content vocabulary in science. 

According to scientific research, most vocabulary is developed indirectly, yet some vocabulary must be taught through direct instruction. Indirect vocabulary instruction occurs through daily encounters with the oral and written word. In science, students can participate in activities that develop the concept and then the associated or targeted vocabulary is introduced afterwards. Students need to hear text read aloud with meaning, engage in discussions or conversations to grasp word meaning, and participate in reading extensively on their own. Learning vocabulary directly implies that students are taught specific vocabulary and strategies to learn the vocabulary.

Word-learning strategies include learning how to use reference aids. Word-learning strategies are important for English learners and native English speakers as reported by Carlo, August, and Snow (2005). Difficult words representing complex concepts and that are not a part of the experiences of a student should be taught directly. Direct instruction leads to better reading comprehension of a subject when students are taught content related vocabulary. More specifically, a higher level of comprehension exists when students work actively with vocabulary over an extended time period.

According to the writing of Thompson and Rubenstein (2000), it appears that the fluent use of content vocabulary is a factor for achievement. To solidify student understanding of content vocabulary, students should experience the use of vocabulary in different contexts, receive increased exposure to the vocabulary, and develop word consciousness. Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets provide core science vocabulary for Levels 1–5. The variety of activities in the Word Play Book coupled with the vocabulary strategies and formative assessment ideas provide students multiple yet varied opportunities for working with vocabulary and establishing a foundation for learning essential terms.

Research shows that student interaction with others deepens the understanding of vocabulary and promotes word consciousness. Making word consciousness a necessary element of an effective vocabulary approach is strongly supported by Anderson and Nagy (1992), Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2002), and Nagy (2005). This science vocabulary resource supports this finding through its flexible use. Teachers may incorporate engagement opportunities for group interaction, brainstorm, and partner work, or simply provide time for students to share, explain, and extend their perception of words and word meanings.

Pressley (1998) supports direct instruction that allows students to elaborate on the meaning of vocabulary as opposed to merely memorizing definitions. A discussion of terms helps students correct any misunderstandings that exist, whether realized or not. Collaboration assists any students in accurately learning vocabulary. It is generally accepted there are times when students can help other students acquire understanding when teachers cannot. Furthermore, Mentoring Minds encourages teachers to be available to students as facilitators and as models. Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets provide instructional opportunities for quality vocabulary instruction and also serve as a means to clarify or assess the levels of student understanding. The role of the teacher and the assessment opportunity are both affirmed in the research as essential elements for vocabulary building.

Students can deepen their understanding by adding to their knowledge base of particular vocabulary terms. Encountering the vocabulary frequently to deepen the meaning is a finding upheld by Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2002) and Nagy (2005). For the repetitions to be effective, learned word meanings must have meaningful associations (Stahl and Fairbanks, 1986). In Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets, a graphic and a sentence example are present to help students visualize the word and word meaning. Studies suggest multiple exposures to new vocabulary and interaction with knowledge over time to lead to integrating and retaining the knowledge into the memory (Rovee-Collier, 1995; Nuthall, 1999; Nagy and Anderson, 1984).

Students must be given opportunities to process information at different levels of thinking to cope with the rapidly changing world. A goal of education is to teach students to become effective thinkers (Gough, 1991). Suggestions in the Word Play Book are offered to reflect comprehension and learning of vocabulary based on several levels of cognitive processing. At the lower levels of thinking, students derive the meaning of the vocabulary word targeted. At the higher levels of critical thinking, skills such as demonstrating the student’s ability to form inferences, to make real-world connections, and to make value judgments using the vocabulary are addressed. Graphic organizers and templates are offered in the Word Play Book which encourages students to put their thoughts onto paper making thinking visible. Many writers support the value of students writing about vocabulary (Azzolino (1990); Mayer and Hillman (1996). Rubenstein and Thompson (2002) declared that open-ended writing prompts allow teachers to analyze students’ thoughts about vocabulary and adjust instruction to accommodate any student misunderstandings about vocabulary meaning. Research concludes when students work on activities at higher levels of thinking, combined with variety in teaching strategies, retention and comprehension improve. Activities in the Word Play Book provide students multiple opportunities to extend independent learning and to apply learned science vocabulary while developing cognitive processes.

Brain research (Sylwester, 1995; Caine and Caine, 1997) suggests teachers can promote thinking and learning. The underlying design of Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets lends itself to reinforcement of major brain research findings. Teachers may incorporate the findings into instruction as they plan daily lessons using this vocabulary resource. Implications for vocabulary application within the classroom include:

  • Learning takes time. Acquisition of new vocabulary takes time and practice to consolidate knowledge;
  • New vocabulary should be connected to prior learning and real-world contexts;
  • An atmosphere for vocabulary instruction must be relaxed, free of threats, yet challenging to the mind;
  • Varied vocabulary teaching techniques should be incorporated into instruction that invite learners to respond using visual, tactile, emotional, and auditory preferences. For example, graphic organizers help the brain see a big idea by breaking concepts into parts. Studies involving multi-sensory teaching experiences show students achieve more gains in learning than when taught with merely a visual or an auditory approach (Farkas, 2003; Maal, 2004). Repeated active engagement with the use of multi-sensory instruction appears to create the optimal learning setting (Stahl and Fairbanks, 1986; Stahl, 1999);
  • Immediate feedback should be offered when students are learning new vocabulary to stimulate and support students. Trillions of unconnected neurons are in the brains of babies. These neurons must be connected to other neurons to result in a better functioning brain. When students are emotionally stimulated and supported in their learning, more brain connections are formed;
  • Multiple and varied forms of higher-level thinking questions must be utilized to increase comprehension; and,
  • More than the traditional forms of teaching and testing must be employed in order to engage student learning.

Vocabulary Instruction and Vocabulary Strategies are sections featured in the Motivation Science Word Play Activities Book with Teacher Guide that accompanies the card sets. Included is a model useful for conceptualizing groups of words developed by Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2002, 2013). The model describes three tiers which are vital to comprehension and vocabulary building. This information is reflective of the fact that students learn and think in multiple ways. Vocabulary strategies that include oral, written, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic approaches are suggested. Variety in vocabulary instructional strategies has been discussed by many writers (Borasi, Siegel, Fonzi & Smith, 1998; Carbo and Hodges, 1988; Gardner, 1983).

Hands-on inquiry instruction can assist students in developing context-based content knowledge and language. According to Lee, Buxton, Lewis, and LeRoy (2006), there are several ways students can benefit from inquiry-based science instruction. Learning to work collaboratively with peers regarding science content, participating in vocabulary building activities, and engaging in oral, written, graphic, and kinesthetic expression are all results of hands-on activities. Both English Language Learners and English proficient students are positively impacted from science activities and intentional, explicit vocabulary instruction (Lee, et. al., 2007; Beck, et. al., 2009). Vocabulary and science knowledge can increase from the interactions from science experiences and discussions of content-specific words and word meanings. Nelson and Stage (2007) purport that the knowledge and understanding of science-specific terms support the development of scientific literacy, which means students gain knowledge of science content as well as practice of scientific habits of mind.

When assessing vocabulary understanding of students, teachers should utilize a variety of assessments other than the traditional paper-and-pencil tests. The information derived from assessment is a powerful tool to monitor the development of student understanding, to revise instruction, and to provide reflection for learners. It is noted that effective teachers utilize assessment tasks as quality learning experiences (NRC, 1996). Assessment feedback supplies the learner with self-assessment information, but it also enhances motivation, which is crucial to achievement. Learning improves with consistent feedback (Linnenbrink and Pintrich, 2002; Pintrich and Schunk, 2002; Heath and Glen, 2005). When assessment is used to move learning forward, then it is formative. Teachers acquire evidence about student performance when they embed formative assessment within instruction and then use the results to move the teaching forward and improve student learning (Wiliam, 2011). To maximize student growth in vocabulary acquisition, formative assessment must play a purposeful and habitual role in vocabulary building. Therefore, the vocabulary activities in Motivation Science Vocabulary Activities Word Play Book with Teacher Guide offer formative assessment strategies and opportunities for exploring different avenues in order to gain knowledge of the current understanding level of vocabulary for students and the nature of their thoughts.

Oral strategies show the thought processes of a student, but also allow a teacher to revise the instructional format if warranted. Leung (2008) found that students who participated in science informational book retellings were better able to explain the meanings of targeted words. Many authors support the need to offer visual instruction for those who need an image, such as a graphic, symbol, or picture to reinforce the word meaning or concept. Scruggs and Mastropieri (1992) recommend mnemonics, picture clues, and appropriate peer assistance to help special needs students remember vocabulary words essential to concept mastery. Graphic organizers, illustrations, and other such images help a learner form initial meaning or revisit the terms to deepen and extend vocabulary relationships (Horton, Lovitt and Bergerud, 1990; Toumasis, 1995; McCoy, Baker & Little, 1996). Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets depict graphic representations, example sentences using the targeted word, and definitions to develop and extend student comprehension.

Non-linguistic representation provides a basis for students, especially ELLs, to understand content vocabulary when they might not have a grasp of English. Learning vocabulary involves students making connections with things and/or experiences that are familiar. Marzano and Pickering (2005) suggested using the student’s native language to provide the instruction (description, explanation, or example) of new vocabulary. When this is not a possibility, students could be grouped with at least one group member who understands English. Another alternative is to seek a bilingual assistant or a volunteer to assist (Marzano and Pickering, 2005). Due to the language factor among all learners, explicit vocabulary instruction seems to lead to proficiency and appropriate comprehension. Activities in Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets will prompt the use of science vocabulary in context so that correct meanings are applied.

The rationale for the development of Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets and Motivation Science Activities Word Play Book with Teacher Guide for teachers is based upon the aforementioned analysis of research. The need for a vocabulary product in science grew after reviewing Common Core Standards, participating in a study of the literature, holding discussions with teachers and administrators, and brainstorming with the Product Development Team. With evidence-based research as a guide, the Mentoring Minds Science Product Development Team developed the vocabulary resource to address science vocabulary and provided many classroom applications:

  • Vocabulary cards will be used to teach science content vocabulary.
  • Vocabulary cards will integrate learning progressions as established by A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (NRC, 2012).
  • Vocabulary cards will support development of science and engineering practices, inquiry-based learning, and STEM curriculum.
  • Vocabulary cards provide students multiple meaningful experiences with science vocabulary.
  • Vocabulary cards include content from the following disciplines: physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences, and engineering, technology, and applications of science.

The essential vocabulary chosen for this educational resource is based on grade-appropriate science vocabulary terminology from the following disciplines: physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences, and engineering, technology, and applications of science. Each field of science is comprised of important concepts, categories, and processes that help explain what occurs in the world. The vocabulary cards help develop an understanding of these concepts, categories, and processes through comprehension of language that describes them. As a result of integrating these cards, images, and activities into instruction, students learn to build a more complex vocabulary. The selected science vocabulary serves as a guide for any campus to use in determining core vocabulary, or a campus can adopt the vocabulary as suggested as core. These word cards feature terms on one side and the matching definitions on the opposite. These cards can be used in whole-group, small-group, or individual game formats, offering additional opportunities for review and vocabulary practice. Teachers may also utilize the word cards as word wall activities. When a campus adopts a core vocabulary for each grade level and implements school-wide strategies to develop vocabulary, the results can be powerful. When or if this approach spreads among the schools within a district, the results can have a greater impact on student success. Therefore, it appears that student learning in science can be favorably influenced when teachers commit to the regular usage of the Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets and implement the suggested strategies found in the Teacher Guide.

The number of words that are in the students’ range of vocabulary can vary widely among students. Words familiar to one student can be completely unfamiliar to others. It appears that students with larger vocabularies learn new words faster than those with limited vocabularies (Hart and Risley, 2003). The more words students know, the easier it is to make connections with new words and form categories of words (Stahl and Stahl, 2012). Due to this variance, the process of word recognition and meaning can present challenges within a classroom environment. When students acquire a common foundation of conceptual understanding, then it is less difficult to engage students in discussions during science instruction. In order to be used and retained, new words must be encountered in multiple contexts (Stahl, 2005). The words introduced in Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets can be presented using a variety of suggestions as found in the Teacher Guide section and in the activities. Based on an analysis of word processing strategies, Nagy (1988) indicated that the higher the level of word processing, the more likely students will learn and retain word meanings. Brain-based learning shows that the best learning occurs when students connect new information to personal experiences and previously learned knowledge. This type of higher-level thinking opportunity enables students to become more engaged in vocabulary development.

Critical thinking is crucial in teaching and learning. Critical thinking tasks allow students to explain their thought processes and offer teachers opportunities to identify the precise point at which students demonstrate misunderstanding of science skills, strategies, or conceptual understanding. The literature notes that when students use their critical thinking abilities integrated with content instruction, depth of knowledge can result. Teachers are encouraged to refrain from limiting instruction to lectures or tasks to rote memorization that exercise only lower levels of thought as opposed to incorporating those which build conceptual understanding (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000).

Students must learn to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively in a variety of content areas, supplementing English Language Arts. This focus is often found in the Word Play Book, incorporating writing into science. The provision of authentic writing opportunities, as promoted by research, serves as a valuable instructional learning experience for concept application to real-world settings. Prompts or questions can be used to invite students to apply conceptual understanding of the vocabulary term, often making application to the students’ own lives thus forming real-world connections. Science concept writing allows students to reflect and communicate their knowledge as they integrate science and writing. Teachers are also able to view the thought processes of students, often using the shared examples to assess accuracy of concepts. Therefore, Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets can serve as formative assessment opportunities for students in which they express their thoughts and reasoning abilities as concepts are transferred from the discipline to everyday life. Feedback should be given after such opportunities. If the feedback is formative it will enhance achievement (Hattie and Jaeger, 1998). Formative feedback can move learning forward if the students can ascertain from the feedback why they have done well and what specific action to take in the future to improve performance (Black and Wiliam, 1998; Wiggins, 1998; Tomlinson and McTighe (2006). When using the vocabulary card sets, there are numerous occasions to incorporate formative assessment strategies and to give appropriate feedback in order to build and reinforce vocabulary development.

Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets are also consistent with some general recommendations of the National Reading Panel (NICHHD, 2000). These recommendations were based on a review of vocabulary instruction research. Thus, this vocabulary product was created with these points in mind: vocabulary should be taught both directly and indirectly; repetition and multiple exposures are important; direct instruction should actively engage students; vocabulary should be taught with multiple methods; and incidental learning can enhance acquisition of vocabulary.

Scaffolding aids offers highly guided instruction and transitions to independent application of the skills learned as progress is made by students. Lajoie (2005) advocated that direct instruction and feedback be matched to specific student responses and provided as needed during problem-solving situations. Individualized instruction employs instruction and feedback throughout the program that are based on the individual student’s specific responses. As student mastery is reached, scaffolding is gradually withdrawn with occasional student monitoring to ensure legitimacy of mastery.

Successful science students need to read and understand science, yet studies indicate that all students do not possess strong vocabularies. Research was provided by Harmon, Hedrick, and Wood (2005) regarding content vocabulary. The findings have implications for science. This literature review indicates that students must have a conceptual understanding of science vocabulary. Development of science-related vocabulary is essential to the success of students. Conceptual understanding is necessary for students in all grade levels and of all ability levels. Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets present meaningful activities that promote active involvement, deeper processing, and minds-on experiences with science vocabulary. Therefore, content vocabulary plays an important part of instruction if the end result is for students to perform successfully in science.

Teachers of science should be cognizant of findings regarding vocabulary and reading. Wolfe and Neville (2009) reported that if children are read to and have access to books at home, their vocabulary is likely to increase. Teachers could involve parents in developing science vocabulary and recommend science informational books for the library that can be checked out as well as used for read-alouds in the classroom or at home. The vocabulary cards could also be used both in the home and at school. Nagy and Anderson (1984) noted that students who acquire extensive vocabularies are typically those who engage in a wide range of reading and exhibit a preparedness to understand vocabulary that might sometimes challenge even the most proficient readers. Allington (2001) reported those students who achieve at lower levels than peers usually demonstrate difficulties in content area reading as well as in other reading tasks due to limited reading experiences and smaller vocabularies. Acquisition of sufficient knowledge of content area vocabulary can contribute to the impact of successfully understanding science. Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets provide a structured framework to support student vocabulary learning and improved performance in science. Research conclusions and the pursuit toward excellence in science education are the driving forces behind the creation of this product.

Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets build the capacity for the comprehension of science content and processes. The combination of linguistic and non-linguistic representations promotes deeper understanding of content-area vocabulary. The Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets for Levels 1–5 each contains a set of 175 cards found in grade-appropriate science content and processes. These words are sold by levels and are accompanied with a Motivation Science Word Play Activities Book with Teacher Guide. For Level 1 cards, the combination of linguistic and non-linguistic representations with sentences associated with nursery rhymes or fairy tales promote deeper understanding of content-area vocabulary and their definitions. As all students are introduced to new vocabulary, brain research suggests that the involvement of more senses in the acquisition of knowledge leads to retention and recall of that knowledge. In the Motivation Science Word Play Activities Book, cheers, chants, and many other multi-sensory experiences are suggested to actively involve learners. Vocabulary strategies and formative assessment ideas are suggested throughout this resource as well.

The Mentoring Minds Science Product Development Team notes that a critical aspect of students’ difficulty in understanding science content could be a lack of sufficient vocabulary knowledge. Teachers must be equipped with core science vocabulary and use a systematic approach to teaching vocabulary. Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets offer a motivational aspect for how students acquire vocabulary, provide explicit instruction and meaningful practice, and serve as a tool to foster word learning, engaging students in developing a foundation in science vocabulary. Designed to complement and extend any science program, Motivation Science Vocabulary Card Sets bring essential content vocabulary to the forefront of classroom instruction.


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