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Analyze This!
A Test-Takers Vocabulary for Social Studies

The task of preparing students for standardized tests in the social studies is daunting. The breadth of the content in each discipline allows a vast range of questions. Students (even those who are well-prepared) may feel a high level of anxiety.

Our goal as teachers is to help students approach these tests with a degree of confidence, without spending undue class time "teaching to the test."

Overcoming Language Hurdles
One major hurdle for the student is the "evaluative" or "task" word that often appears before or within a test question. If students do not understand the examiner's expectations (often conveyed through these words), their chances of giving wrong answers increase.

Another hurdle for the student is the language peculiar to each social studies discipline. The student unfamiliar with these "discipline-related" words is at a disadvantage. Attention to vocabulary can pay off in improved test scores.

Examine the following table of Evaluative/Task words. Do your students know what each term asks them to do?

Evaluative/Task Words Students Should Be Familiar With
Analyze Systematically and critically examine each of the facts.
Compare Show how the facts or ideas are similar.
Contrast Show how the facts or ideas are different.
Define Set forth the meaning or make something clear.
Discuss Present a detailed argument or consideration.
Evaluate Determine the value, significance, or worth of.
Identify Establish the essential characteristics of.
Illustrate Make clear by citing examples.
Interpret Present the subject at hand in understandable terms.
Infer Draw a conclusion based on given facts; predict, generalize.
Jultify Show or prove to be right or reasonable.
Sequence Arrange in meaningful order, beginning to end.
Summarize Explain the main points.
Synthesize Combine the parts into a coherent whole.
Trace Review in detail, step by step.

Integrating Evaluative/Task Words in Class Assignments
Merely studying the table above will be insufficient to prepare most students for understanding the terms on standardized tests. Have students practice addressing questions that use these terms frequently in various forms of evaluation. Redirect those students who are having difficulty.

Discipline-Related Words with Meanings Peculiar to Social Studies
Social studies textbooks customarily present vocabulary words and exercises as a standard feature in every chapter or section. These are terms like "grand jury" or "iron curtain," used primarily in the discipline. Other terms may be common to the general vocabulary, but have a more specific meaning inside the discipline.

Teachers usually incorporate textbook vocabulary terms in lessons. However, we may assume that words people use frequently are familiar to most students. This view takes too much for granted. The following terms are ones students might be expected to know, but that would be unfamiliar in a social studies context to many:

Discipline-Specific Words Students Should Know
abdicate
adaptation
alien
alliance
amendment
amnesty
belligerent
bias
buffer state
bullion
bureaucracy
chivalry
classical
coalition
collectivism
commune
compensation
constituent
consumption
contemporary
culture
data
delegate
demographic
desertification
diffusion
dissident
domestic
emigration
economic system
ensuing
factors of production
federal
free enterprise
fundamentalism
genocide
guerilla
humanism
icon
imperialism
individualism
indulgence
inflation
inherent
innovation
institution
jurisdiction
landmark case
latitude
mandate
mass culture
media
mortality
native
nativism
nuclear family
nullify
override
partisan
petition
political map
population density
pragmatist
primary source
quartered
quota
ratify
ratio
reactionary
realism
rebate
reform
republic
resolution
revenue
safety valve
sanctions
schism
sector
sovereignty
standard of living
subsistence
suffrage
supremacy
topographic
trust
unalienable
urbanization
ultimatum
venue
welfare state
zoning

Learning Vocabulary Words
Teachers use various methods to teach vocabulary. Regardless of the method, the key to learning the terms is reinforcement.

Here are some suggestions for teaching and reinforcing social studies vocabulary words:
  • Traditional
    • Write the definition or use the word in a sentence.
    • Find the word in the text; read it in context; explain its meaning.
    • Complete a crossword puzzle using several vocabulary words.
    • Match the word to its definition in matching sets.
    • Practice with 3" by 5" cards: the word on one side, the definition on the other.
  • Creative
    • Play a word-game version of charades in which students try to guess a word being acted out silently by another.
    • Choose a Word (or Words) of the Day and use the word at different times in class: lecture, discussion, question/answer, written assignment, and so on.
    • Play a "dictionary game" by having one person read the word to the class; letting each student write what they think is the definition; collecting and reading 5-10 definitions at random, one being correct; having the class vote on each to determine whose definition was correct.
Understanding the vocabulary is not the same as mastering the content of a discipline, but is does give the student a head start on learning. It may also be an effective way to help them leap forward on a standardized/high stakes test.

This article was contributed by David Glunt, social studies teacher at Tree of Life Christian High School, Columbus, Ohio. He also teaches American Civilization at Columbus State Community College.





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