How important is science vocabulary in primary schools?

It’s easy to think that vocabulary relates just to English Lessons, but this is not the case, as language is at the heart of education and every subject taught in schools. Using and understanding words does not only help pupils to achieve academically, it is also fundamentally important in helping them to develop into well-rounded individuals.

A leading academic, Professor Maggie Snowling CBE, President of St John’s College, Oxford, stated: “Language is the foundation of education and is vital for social and emotional development. Children with poor oral language are at high risk of poor literacy and hence, educational failure. They can also experience difficulty in communicating to make friends, to join in activities and to express their feelings.”

Vocabulary is one of the threads which runs through every curriculum area. In order to explain a science investigation or describe what they see, pupils need to have a bank of scientific words. The Oxford University Press conducted research into why closing the word gap matters. During their research, they questioned over 1,000 teachers and 69% of Primary school teachers felt the word gap is increasing.

Jane Harley, Strategy Director, UK Education, Oxford University Press, said: “Over half the teachers surveyed reported that at least 40% of their pupils lacked the vocabulary to access their learning.”

There is evidence to suggest that pupils with poor vocabulary at the age of thirteen are less likely to achieve during their GCSEs. It has been evident for years that pupils are coming into Primary school with limited vocabulary and poor communication skills.

As Andrea Quincey (Head of English, Primary, at Oxford University Press) states: “Talk to anyone involved in primary education and most will tell you limited vocabulary and poor communication is the ‘number one issue’. The reasons for this are many and complex but one thing is clear: this word gap affects EVERYTHING.”

What can we, as Primary school teachers, do to close the word gap?

We need to address vocabulary in every subject area taught. Science is a great place to start. All Science Coordinators will be ensuring there is progression across year groups, which should include scientific vocabulary. Teachers should have words displayed in their classroom or role play corners with word mats available for pupils to use when they are predicting, experimenting, investigating, discussing and evaluating. We have started to develop posters and knowledge organisers for each area of the science curriculum. Here is a free example to download…

Year 4 and P5 poster and knowledge organiser

They are all year group-specific and there are definitions on the reverse of the word mat, alongside key information the children need to know.

As stated previously, it is important that language is embedded throughout the subjects, and our teaching resources will provide the perfect links with reading. In our reading spreads, we ensure that we use the correct scientific vocabulary, explaining how to pronounce a tricky word by placing the phonetic spelling next to it. For example, nephrons (say neff-rons). Linking science and reading is a great way to deepen children’s science vocabulary knowledge.

“Research has shown that children are more likely to read texts that are meaningful and enjoyable. Schools, therefore, can play a major role in children’s lives by developing a love of reading and making available a wide range of interesting and accessible texts,” stated Dr Ian Thompson, Associate Professor of English Education and Nicole Dingwall, a Curriculum Tutor on the PGCE English course at the University of Oxford.

Without doubt, research shows us that vocabulary is key to academic success and personal wellbeing. As Ofsted’s new framework focuses on the whole curriculum, it is important to demonstrate a clear progression of vocabulary throughout each of the different areas and not just English.

To find out more about our teaching resources, click here.

Read the OUP’s full report here:

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Top tips for teaching primary science, from Dr Leigh Hoath

Dr Leigh Hoath is Editor of the Association for Science Education’s Primary Science journal. Her work reaches out to teachers across the whole age phase of primary schools in order to try to support engagement and interest in science. Her interests lie predominantly in improving learning and teaching in Primary Science, pedagogy and working in the outdoor setting.

Dr Leigh Hoath’s top tips for teaching primary science:

  1. Be Bold
  2. Make it relevant
  3. Talk to people in the science industry, in business and make use of the educational outreach science museums offer for schools

One of the easiest ways to make science relevant for kids, whilst keeping to the curriculum, is to subscribe to a magazine like Whizz Pop Bang. Our subscriptions for schools allow children to independently read up-to-date news articles every month about things that are happening in their world, as well as the big news stories written in a way to inform children, without worrying them.

To accompany each issue of Whizz Pop Bang magazine, there’s a library of online resources for schools, all planned and ready to download and teach – with a handy kit list of inexpensive household items to carry out the investigations.

Teachers can deliver hands-on science lessons that are both fun and hands-on for children, getting a ‘deep dive’ experience they’ll remember.

“Using Whizz Pop Bang has revitalized our science teaching. The quality of the resources are first class and particularly support cross curricular links through the reading comprehension activities. We have found these to be particularly useful at the upper end of KS2 where science can be used as a vehicle to support SATs, making use of skills of inference and deduction based on relevant scientific topics. In addition the planning offers exciting practical ideas, particularly useful to teachers who are not scientific specialists. The children absolutely love carrying out the real-life experiments.”

Sally Cowell, Head teacher at Shaw Ridge Primary school, Swindon

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How can your primary school embrace the new Ofsted framework?

The new Ofsted framework comes into place from September 2019. Its focus is on ensuring that primary schools are delivering a well-rounded education across the whole of the primary curriculum. This is an exciting time for science and all other non-assessed primary subjects as it shifts some of the focus away from maths and literacy.

To help schools prepare for the changes, we’ve got some top tips on how Whizz Pop Bang’s new primary science and reading resources can help deliver a cross-curricular approach in your school.

Below are some of the key requirements from the new Ofsted framework…

  1. “Learners study the full curriculum. Providers ensure this by teaching a full range of subjects for as long as possible, ‘specialising’ only when necessary.”
    During their top-level view, headteachers will be asked to explain how their curriculum is implemented and inspectors will explore what is on offer to students.  As they start to deep dive into science, they will want to see a sequence of lessons, scrutinize books and talk to pupils. They will be checking for coverage but more importantly that pupils learn and remember.

  2. “Coverage is a prerequisite for learning, but simply having covered a part of the curriculum does not in itself indicate that pupils know or remember more.”
    Here at Whizz Pop Bang our aim is to put the Whizz, Pop and Bang into science and topic lessons in primary schools. We create lessons that are fun, easy to teach and therefore memorable for pupils and teachers alike (in a good way!).
    Kids love our hands-on experiments; making exploding rockets, growing mould and testing out cool paper planes, making recycling machines and finding out why things float… trying out experiments that fail and learning from trying again. Subscribe to Whizz Pop Bang for your school to access over 100 tried and tested science resources, with more added every month to keep science teaching fresh and topical.

  3. The resources and materials that teachers select – in a way that does not create unnecessary workload for staff – reflect the provider’s ambitious intentions for the course of study and clearly support the intent of a coherently planned curriculum…” The Whizz Pop Bang ten-minute spectacular science PowerPoints are designed to get a scientific discussion going in the classroom. These enable teachers to share deeper science topics into their lessons, with questions and answers included in the PowerPoint so teachers don’t have to spend time researching them. Our primary school resources have clear links to the science and reading curricula, they are of high quality and require minimal resources, helping to reduce teacher workload without skimping on the quality of the lesson and pupil’s learning.

  4. Teachers have good knowledge of the subject(s) and courses they teach. Leaders provide effective support for those teaching outside their main areas of expertise…” We know that not all teachers are science specialists, so with this in mind we include an age-appropriate scientific explanation on every lesson plan, with scientific terminology to expand children’s vocabulary. This increases teacher’s confidence and adds extra support for primary school teachers.

  5. “Teachers present subject matter clearly, promoting appropriate discussion about the subject matter they are teaching.”
    Our reading resources are taken from all issues of Whizz Pop Bang magazine and cover many different non-fiction genres (interviews, non-chronological reports, historical biographies, explanation texts and instructions), helping teachers to make cross-curricular links and promote relevant and thought-provoking discussions with pupils.

  6. “In primary schools, inspectors will always carry out a deep dive in reading…”
    Teachers love our reading resources as the content is current, inspiring and relevant, and linked to the reading curriculum. Teachers can download and print as many texts as required, allowing whole class reading or group reading. Our questions sheets relate to the reading curriculum and are differentiated. In all texts we help pupils to pronounce scientific words by breaking them down phonetically.

  7. “A rigorous approach to the teaching of reading develops learners’ confidence and enjoyment in reading. At the early stages of learning to read, reading materials are closely matched to learners’ phonics knowledge.”
    We offer a unique resource for schools, with new science and reading resources available every month to accompany each new issue of Whizz Pop Bang magazine. Each issue is themed, which links well with topic-based learning in schools, as well as seasons and events.

Read the full Ofsted framework report here.

A subscription to Whizz Pop Bang magazine and resources is the perfect way to enhance your school’s curriculum, and meet key elements of Ofsted’s new guidelines.

Subscribe to Whizz Pop Bang for your school for:

  • Inspirational and topical science magazines delivered each month
  • Unlimited teacher log-ins to access downloadable science and reading resources
  • Prices from just £190 for the entire year

Visit our dedicated schools page, call us on 0330 2233 790 or email Together we can inspire the scientists of the future!

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