Evaluating the efficacy of using sentence frames for learning new vocabulary in science


School of Education

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Science students are increasingly challenged to use technical language related to the topics that they are studying, and therefore, science teachers benefit from knowing which tools are effective to support students in learning to use new terms. This study examined the impact of using one such tool—sentences frames—to teach science vocabulary, as measured through a science‐writing task. Using an experimental approach with extant middle school science classes that offered a sample of 75 mainly Latino school students from grades six through eight, the researcher together with participating teachers identified 10 essential terms per science unit. The teachers used vocabulary‐focused sentence frames for teaching the terms in one science unit, and a more traditional science text‐based approach for teaching vocabulary in another unit. The writing task required at the end of the units consisted of essays in response to science‐based prompts that directed students to use as many target science words as possible; matching/cloze format quizzes were also used to measure pretest and posttest receptive vocabulary knowledge. Findings indicated that there were advantages for teaching new science vocabulary via sentence frames as measured by use of the words in writing, but there were no advantages for sentence frames on quizzes measuring receptive vocabulary. Advantages of sentence frames for writing approached but did not reach statistical significance. There was some evidence that current and previous English language learners benefited more than initial English speakers from sentence frames, implying that utilizing sentence frames to teach science vocabulary might offer needed support especially for these subgroups. Limitations of the study included the sample size and the possibility that the strategy utilized in the comparison group might have offered some of the same advantages in producing language with technical vocabulary that the sentence frames unit offered.


Pedagogy; Literacy;

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JRST Journal of research in science teaching





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