Investigating a university-based Science list in secondary school texts
Specialised vocabulary in secondary school/Middle School
In an effort to investigate whether an existing university-based, Science-specific word list (Coxhead & Hirsh, 2007) can go some way towards identifying the specialised vocabulary of Science in schools, Coxhead et al. (2010) analysed the vocabulary in a secondary schools Science textbook series. Coxhead et al. (2010) found that Coxhead and Hirsh’s EAP Science List covered 5.90% of the textbooks. This coverage is higher than the 3.79% coverage of the same word list over tertiary level science texts reported by Coxhead and Hirsh (2007). This higher coverage figure in the secondary school Science textbooks suggest that there is some overlap at secondary and tertiary level of this science vocabulary. There is also a difference in that 54 word families (17%) in the list appeared in the tertiary corpus but did not occur in the secondary school textbooks. It could be that the secondary school textbook corpus is quite small, which means these lexical items did not have much opportunity to occur, or it could mean that there are differences between the vocabulary in the sciences at secondary and tertiary levels. This study needs replication and validation to support any generalisations that could be made.
Figure 5.4 shows an example of a section of text from one of the Science textbooks by Hook (2005, p. 88). This example is from a Year 9 textbook and is about atoms. The text has been marked up with words from West’s GSL (1953), Coxhead’s AWL (2000) and the EAP Science List (Coxhead & Hirsh, 2007). The GSL words are in normal text, the AWL words are bolded, the shaded words are from the science list and the words which are outside these lists are in italics.
Figure 5.4 Mini solar system text from Hook (2005) with marked GSL, AWL, Science list and words not found in any list
The science-specific words from the Coxhead and Hirsh (2007) list appear on almost each line of the textbook sample from Hook and are repeated in the text. The textbook study by Coxhead et al. (2010) found that the first 2,000-word families of Nation’s (2006) BNC had fairly consistent coverage of the secondary school Science textbooks and the textbook for the final year of study at school had a larger vocabulary load than the other textbooks. The textbook for the final year of study included some words which did not occur in the other textbooks, such as sulphate, sulphur, gondwana and Gondwanaland, and some native New Zealand animals, such as tuatara and takahe. So far, we have focused on specialised vocabulary in written texts, so now let’s move to spoken texts in secondary school.