Classifying and connecting vocabulary

My goal in teaching is to have my students USE the knowledge that they learn in my classroom. So often, I see the students learn things for a quiz or test then totally forget what they learned. The knowledge was stored in their short-term memory for just as long as they needed it then it flies out of their ears ten times faster than it went in. After frequent discussions with a special education reading specialist, I have decided I need to use the vocabulary in different ways everyday during the unit of study. Forcing the students to see relevance of the vocabulary and use the terms frequently in writing and discussions.

Yesterday, my science classes took 16 of our most frequently used vocabulary terms and classified them into groups. All the terms come from our weather unit. For these assignment there is no correct answer as long as the classification fits all items in the group. As I walked around the classroom, at first it appeared the student really knew what they were doing. I noticed many groupings that seemed to fit the assignment. As I started questioning the students about why and how the terms were grouped, I noticed a lack of deeper understanding. Many stated, “They just go together” or “I saw them on the same page as in the textbook.” I was glad they open the book to try to figure out the answer, but I gave this assignment because the answers aren’t in the book! As I kept questioning students, I noticed frustration creep into my classroom. My students really never thought about WHY terms could be grouped together.

We needed a quick lesson in grouping. I turned on the ELMO and placed a pen and pencil under the camera. I asked, “How can these 2 items be grouped?” Instantly hands shoot up in the classroom. “Writing utensils” was the first answer from the class. “What else could we add to this group?” I inquired. “Paper” was shouted out before I was done asking the question. “Does that fit class?” was followed by a chorus of “NO”. “So why not?” As the class worked through the explanation that paper is not used to write with but to write on, I saw a few light bulbs light up. Groups quickly went back to work on the classifications.  Below are a couple of results from class:

As class wound down, I noticed a few students were still struggling with classifying their terms. I started planning on the fly for the next day. In order for students to classify the terms they need to understand how the terms are connected. Does one concept cause the other? Are they similar? DO they require similar conditions? I decided that the students needed to write about the connections in their  accounts.

Here is the assignment:

I want you to write about how at least 4 words from our vocabulary that  work together to affect/cause/produce our large topic of weather. See the mentor text below for an example:

Mentor Text:

Connected words: Conduction- Convection-Jet Stream – Ocean Currents

The sun transfers energy to the Earth by radiation, conduction and convectionConduction occurs when the sun lights energy is directly transferred by contacting a surface on Earth. Convection occurs due to uneven heating of the surface, which creates movement from warm areas to cooler areas.  Due to these two methods of transferring the sun’s energy, water and air move. The jet stream is a high-altitude wind caused by the suns energy. Ocean currents are steady one directional flows of water also caused by the energy from the sun. Conduction and convection are methods for transferring energy to cause the jet stream and ocean currents.

As we entered the computer lab, I hoped for this assignment to help the students gain a better understanding of their vocabulary. While, I was presenting the task to the class, a couple of students raised their hands and shared how they felt the words are connected. For the second day, I explained that there were no right or wrong answers. All of the words  deal with weather so they are all interconnected in different ways. Students just needed to talk about how the terms go together. Below are a few examples of student work:


Warm fronts and cold fronts can cause warmer or colder temperatures you can use a thermometer to find the exact temperature. Occluded fronts  are also caused which are a form weather. Rain, snow, sleet and hail are all forms precipitation which fall from clouds. You can find the climate by averaging the weather.

The sun gives off energy through radiation throughout the universe. When the radiation nears the Earth, it must first reach the atmosphere. The amount of energy that gets through the atmosphere, winds, clouds (tiny of millions of water droplets or ice crystals), is the weather, (the conditions of the atmosphere in a given place and time). The weather tends to change similarly each year, and can always change whether we can predict it or not. This is the main  difference between weather and climate (the weather in some location averaged over a long period of time). The climate also deals with weather, such as temperatures, precipitation, etc… All of these rely on the sun for energy, the atmosphere to suppress (absorb) some of the energy such as harmful ultraviolet rays, for their ability to do their job and for us to simply be.


The sun transfers its energy to the earth by radiationconduction is when the suns energy s directly hitting a spot on the earth, convection is when the suns energy unevenly hits the earths surface causing that spot to move from cold to hot, do to this it creates wind and ocean currents. The jet stream is a wind in high altitude caused by the suns energy. Ocean currents are flows of water caused by the suns energy that move in one direction due to wind. All of these words are a way of transferring energy. in this case they all transfer energy that’s from the sun.


 As I walked around the room, these responses showed me that the students we finally connecting themselves to understanding their vocabulary. I feel that students benefit from spending time using terms they need to know. Teachers have to get past having student write a definition! Student need to see the terms in context and use them in a connected manner to clearly communicate their learning. I can not be more proud of my students and their learning today.

Learning Vocabulary with Metaphors

Today I used the following assignment in my science classroom:

The Learning target for today is to demonstrate understanding of vocabulary through the use of Metaphoric representation.

Part 1: Required- Vocab Metaphors

  • Pick 4 of our vocabulary words from our vocab list
  • Find a “non-scientific” picture that represents the word – Like we did yesterday in class
  • Explain why the picture represents the word

Click here to go to Quizlet to review vocabulary.

Go here to write your Vocabulary Metaphors in your

Mentor Text for a 4

An ocean current is a continuous, directed movement of ocean water generated by the forces acting

When I read that definition I began to think about my advisory students who are preparing for the NWEA test.  To help them improve their math scores I am bringing them in the computer lab to review.  I feel like this test is like an ocean current because it is directing the path of education.   The direction of education is currently moving to align more and more with the tests.  Teachers and students are under great ”forces” to be successful.   Ocean currents are controlling the flow of water and tests are controlling education.

Mentor Text for a 3

Title: Vocab Metaphors

Vocabulary word: Front –  the atmospheric phenomenon created at the boundary between two different air masses

This image represents front because the Mickey Mouse character is a boundary between the two different masses of people.  Also the Mickey Mouse looks like he in the atmosphere. This connects to the vocabulary word because “Front” is a boundary between two masses of air.


The mentor texts are present to model for the students the quality of writing that is expected  in their blog posts. The use of Metaphors to connect to vocabulary was modeled in my classroom yesterday with the help of our wonderful, special education teacher, Mrs Hogan.

Many of my students are struggling to meet the criteria for success on this assignment. It is not that they can’t define the words, or use pictures to connect to the words, but because the students are concrete thinkers. My students struggle with the idea of a metaphor. When they want to be literal in the representation with a picture. Look at the following example for the word “Climate”

                  CLIMATE: the climate in the desert  stays the same all the time.

A picture of a desert climate to be a metaphor for climate? The picture does represent a climate but not metaphorically. I need to figure out how to engage the students at a higher level of thinking to create metaphors instead of literal representation.

As I continued to see literal representation after literal representation, I asked the class to reexamine the “mentor” texts. Ask themselves if they were following the model laid out before them. Many were upset. They acknowledge that the model was not being followed accurately. I stated that “It is okay to make a mistake, it is not okay to leave the mistake uncorrected after realizing it is a mistake.”  Student went back to work and created samples that looked more like this:

Ocean Current: The steady flow of surface ocean water in a prevailing direction.

This image of a highway is like an ocean current because the movement is continuous.


Atmosphere – is a mix of gases that surround the Earth. When I think of the atmosphere I think of salad, because salads are always mixed with something, weather it’s salad dressing, fruits and vegetables, etc.

Students need constant reminders of expectations. When expectations are not met teachers need to guide students back to the goal of the learning activity. Teachers need to point the students towards high quality examples of work. Allow the students to assess their own work and give them time to make the necessary changes. Students seem to rush into assignments with the desire of completion. Monitoring needs to occur to make sure learning targets are achieved.