The Effect of Plain-English Vocabulary on Student Achievement and Classroom Culture in College Science Instruction

  • Emily SchoerningEmail author


This study examined the effect of the translation of traditional scientific vocabulary into plain English on student achievement in college science instruction. The study took place in the context of an introductory microbiology course. Data were collected from course sections instructed with traditional microbiology vocabulary as well as sections instructed with plain-English equivalent terms. Both treatment groups followed the same inquiry-based curriculum. Data collected included written and practical exam scores as well as pre and post-course surveys on subject knowledge and impressions of biology, science, and the course. Students subjected to plain-English instruction performed significantly better on written exams that assessed higher-order abilities to apply and analyze knowledge from the course. They gained similar amounts of lower-order knowledge during the course when compared to peers instructed with standard vocabulary. Results supported the hypothesis that improved achievement in the plain-English treatment was caused by students’ ability to utilize extant neural networks to ground new learning.

Key words

concept acquisition language vocabulary 


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Copyright information

© National Science Council, Taiwan 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Teaching and LearningUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA

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