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Definition Expedition


  • Arts & Humanities
    --Language Arts
  • Science
    --Life Sciences
    --Physical Science
    ----Earth Science
    --Process Skills
    --Natural History
    --Space Science


  • 9-12

Brief Description

Students learn about three ways to define a term in technical writing, search the Web for scientific text, then copy and paste sections into a Word document. Finally, they use the highlighter feature of Word to highlight examples of definitions within the text.


Students will:

  • Identify definitions within scientific writing.
  • Analyze the definitions and identify "clues" inside sentences that tell the reader a definition follows.


Definitions, technical writing, interdisciplinary

Materials Needed

  • Student access to the Internet
  • Classroom projector or TV monitor

Lesson Plan

Improve students' reading comprehension skills with this cross-disciplinary lesson.

Begin the lesson -- which can be taught either in the English or science classroom -- by discussing what the word "definition" means and where definitions can be found. Share that, in addition to a dictionary or glossary, definitions often can be located within the body of the text itself. Explain to students that when they're learning a new concept in science or other fields, they need to know how to identify definitions as they read an article or textbook.

Tell the class that today's assignment is to identify four ways that definitions can appear in scientific articles.

On a classroom projector or TV monitor, display The Sun-Earth Connection Web site. Read the first paragraph out loud (or have students read it silently), then explain to students that one definition is in the first paragraph of the text and ask them to find it. Students should say that corona is defined as "the sun's hot, churning atmosphere." Ask them how they know that's a definition. They should respond that the phrase "called the" helped students recognize that a definition went before and a term went after that phrase.

Next, with the class watching, copy the whole first paragraph, open a Word document, and paste the paragraph into that document. Drag your mouse over the phrase "the sun's hot, churning atmosphere, called the corona," and then select the Highligher tool from your Formatting toolbar. (The Highlighter tool has an "abc" on it and is near the font color tool. Click View>Toolbars>Formatting if you don't see the toolbar.) Click any color to highlight the phrase as an example of a definition.

Ask students to repeat the above steps as they locate five examples of definitions within the text on each of the Web sites below:

Note: The above sites were selected from physics, biology, chemistry, and astronomy Web sites, on the assumption that the lesson would be taught in an English classroom. If you're a science teacher, feel free to use Web sites appropriate for your content area. Also, the sites were selected for students in freshman or non-college prep courses. Feel free to locate more advanced topics if appropriate.

Have students complete the following steps with each article above:

  • Go to one of the Web sites above.
  • Find an article.
  • Locate a definition.
  • Select the paragraph, and then click Edit>Copy.
  • Paste the paragraph into a Word document.
  • Highlight the definition phrase (include the term and the definition) with a color of your choice.

When students have complete all five examples, for neatness sake, have them go to Edit>Select All, and then change the font to 10 or 12 point Times New Roman. Also remind students to type their names, the date, and any other class information at the top of the document.

When students are finished, ask for volunteers to share a few examples with the class. As they're sharing, have students identify what in the sentence structure itself indicated a definition. For example, in the second paragraph of the Sun-Earth Connection article, parentheses after the acronym SOHO contained the definition of what SOHO meant.

Ask students to go back to their Word documents, scroll to the bottom, and type:
We can locate definitions in text by the following clues: " Parentheses after a concept

Then have students add additional bullets for other clues they have found. Some examples might be:

  • The use of dashes or commas (as in the corona example mentioned first above)
  • Captions under a picture (What does the picture or graph mean?)
  • A colon
  • The words: means, is, or.

Have students print their worksheets and turn them in when finished.


Students will be evaluated on their ability to identify types of definitions based upon highlighted texts and bulleted list.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Lorrie Jackson

National Standards


NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.3 Evaluation Strategies
NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.7 Evaluating Data
NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills

GRADES 9 - 12
NS.9-12.1 Science as Inquiry
NS.9-12.2 Physical Science
NS.9-12.3 Life Science
NS.9-12.4 Earth and Space Science
NS.9-12.5 Science and Technology
NS.9-12.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
NS.9-12.7 History and Nature of Science