Meeting 8 of the Inclusive Science Education Group (vocabulary)


The inclusive science group is made of interested educators from all phases and sectors who have an interest in teaching students who have additional support needs or special educational needs. It is organised by Rob Butler from the ASE and Jane Essex (ASE and RSC member), who both have an interest in this area of science education. Membership of this group is open to anyone, and attendance at the meetings is optional. Notes taken during the discussion will be shared with the whole group. You can join by filling in the form at

Meeting 8

We were fortunate to be joined by Dr Susie Nyman (@DrSusieNyman on Twitter) who teaches at the Sixth Form Collage, Farnborough.  Susie came to share some of the ideas she presented at the ASE’s International day. Susie has put together a toolbox of strategies and resources to help teachers of learners with special educational needs.

Susie opened with pen portraits of her learners. She told us of one learner who needed a giant A1 graph of the menstrual cycle using strawberry laces to help visualise it in his head. Another learner needed to break down words into components and to relate the learning to them and their prior experiences. A whole class activity is playing the weakest link using mini-whiteboards as a show and share activity to test if students have learned. There are lots of ways to teach science, it isn’t just textbooks and classic experiments.

Glossaries of terms are really useful to learners, Susie has them at the start of each student’s book but they need to be actively used. You can use post-it notes with these glossaries to group and self-test words for example.

Science terminology can be quite challenging for learners. We can break down challenging words into prefixes, roots, suffixes which can help learners make sense of complicated words. For example, chloro means green, photo means light, poly means many etc. These can help students understand words, and understanding can also help them select the correct terminology to use  such as hypo/hyperglycaemic.  There are lots of words that can be made easier to understand through the etymology, for example arthro (joints – arthropods, arthritis –osis means process as in osmosis)

When teaching new terminology Susie suggested the following strategies

  1. Speak and use the words out loud
  2. Write words on interactive and mini white boards
  3. Break down words into parts e.g.o-eso-pha-gus and write them down on coloured Post-It notes using different coloured pens.
  4. Repeat the words a few times.
  5. Discuss the etymology of the word for example from the Greek “stoma” which means mouth.
  6. Give an example in a sentence.
  7. Regularly revisit the terminology using games e.g. Bingo or playing the “weakest link”.

Susie refers to ‘onion teaching’ in which you give core information which you add to and let students build layers upon the top. Susie shared strategies she had experienced success such as modelling the structure of leaves with alternative materials. Playdoh is a really good material to model digestive system because it stimulates all of the senses. A typical sequence of activities might look like this

Susie has a giant mat of the heart which can be used in different ways, labelling parts, modelling flow of blood, explaining the vocabulary etc. Using little aids to memory (you try before you buy) can help students remember sequences (tricuspid before bicuspid). Susie has made models of body parts out of clay but you could use foam or similar to help students remember the parts.

Tactile/multisensory strategies included modelling DNA by using double-ended zips (available from John Lewis) to help students understand what is happening during replication. Susie also used card sorts to match circuit symbols to their names so students could remember them and strawberry laces to plot distance-time graphs on pre-created axes. 

Relating science to real-life situations does help learners understand and remember, for example using toys in physics when learning about momentum. Susie extends this theory, relating sand castles to surface tension, using words like cohesion and surface tension (and explaining what they mean in the context of making sand castles)

You can make the periodic table of elements tactile by using large shower curtain or physical pottery models that they can interact with. You can extend this by physically modelling electron configuration using marbles, and model organic compounds using lollipop sticks (useful to show the double bonds). You can make paperchains to link a sequence of alkanes together to help learners remember their names.

Susie reminded teachers that assistive technology is incredibly powerful, whether that is reading/scanning pens or using software like Read & Write Gold or Dolphin Easyreader. 

Exam technique can be important and Susie prepares her learners to complete exam questions (using her Exam question task board) to walk learners through basics like reading the exam question, unpicking what is required and walking the learner through answering the question. These are available from Ooka books.

Susie concluded by reminding those present that learners need to believe in themselves with the phrase “If you can believe, you can achieve”

Take-away messages

  • Some students learn best with a multi-sensory experience. How can we build those into our teaching?
  • How can we relate learning to real life?
  • What strategies can we use to help learners understand and remember?

Links from the workshop

From the British Dyslexia Association

Multisensory teaching –

Susie’s slides

Biology word roots/prefixes/suffixes


Published by Rob Butler

Ex-science teacher, ex-school leader and full-time geek.