Subject Specific Vocabulary/Document

From OER in Education
Subject-specific vocabulary
Your department may already have word walls to which pupils can refer. However, it is vital that these words are explicitly taught for meaning. Vocabulary needs to be contextualised, so the words on the wall should only relate to the work in hand.

The more explicit the teaching of vocabulary that is done in Key Stage 3, the better pupils will manage in Key Stage 4.

Words and their meanings Consider the following words and how their meaning varies depending on the context in which they appear.

How many other meanings can you think of for volume and pitch?

Word Meaning 1 Meaning 2
pitch field of play (PE)


acuteness/graveness of tone (music)


volume degree of loudness



large book (general/English)


bias subjective point of view



cut diagonally across the warp


(textile technology)

Exemplification of subject-specific vocabulary in reading
Either, observe a colleague, paying particular attention to subject specific language (you might like to observe a different subject), or watch video sequence 13a from the DfES DVDs from Extending literacy across the curriculum 2, and shows a teacher teaching RE to a mixed-ability Year 8 group. As you watch the video, focus on the following.
  • What does the teacher see as the issues for vocabulary in the lesson?
  • How does she stage the learning to ensure pupils have grasped the meanings of the relevant vocabulary?
  • How are the pupils learning English as an additional language supported in their understanding of key words?
  • How does the vocabulary work contribute to the overall success of the lesson?
  • What are the implications of the extract for your teaching?
Classroom assignment: subject-specific vocabulary
Think about a topic you will be teaching shortly. List the vocabulary pupils might need and decide how you will familiarise pupils with it, if necessary.
Practical tips
  • Pupils are more likely to remember vocabulary if they investigate it or work out meanings for themselves in pairs or groups.
  • It can be helpful to make links to affixes if that is relevant, e.g. photo meaning light in photography and photosynthesis; bio meaning life in biography and biology.
  • It helps if pupils record the vocabulary and its relevant meanings on posters as an aide-mémoire and/or develop their own glossaries.
  • You might find it helpful to talk to a colleague about their subject-specific vocabulary and whether there are explicit links like the above which you can both make to demonstrate the portable nature of some affixes.