Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Learning Landform Vocabulary through Different Methods: Object Boxes, Sand and Dough Creations, or Puppet Plays

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Learning Landform Vocabulary through Different Methods: Object Boxes, Sand and Dough Creations, or Puppet Plays

Article excerpt


Learning about landforms is an important part of earth science instruction in the elementary grades that has been identified as needing improvement. Three research-supported experimental approaches were compared in a counterbalanced-design study conducted on three sets of landform words with second, third, and fourth grade students (N = 53). Because many geomorphology terms have multiple meanings that lead to misconceptions and learning difficulty, the vocabulary of the study focused on thirty words that have both an everyday meaning and a landform meaning.

All students viewed an electronic slide show of photographs and definitions of landforms accompanied by explanations of landform processes. Then they attended lessons under the different conditions for the same amount of time. In the object box condition, students created a layout of objects, papier-mâché landform models, photographs, definitions, analogy cards, and mnemonic device cards that related the two meanings of each term. In the second condition, students created landforms in sand or dough and labeled them. In the third condition, students created and performed puppet plays that explained the landforms. Results show that the object box condition was favored above the sand condition and the puppet play condition, although long-term retention of information was good in all three.


The Need for Good Instruction in Geomorphology and Landforms - Several studies have indicated that K-12 students have not learned needed vocabulary related to the Earth's surface features. A task force of the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE) conducted a study of 529 middle and high school students (LeVasseur, 1999), administering the NCGE Competency-Based Geography Test (NCGE, 1980), and found that students were least knowledgeable about physical geography, an outcome consistent with two National Assessment of Educational Progress assessments and studies (Bein, 1990; Henrie, Aron, Nelson, and Poole, 1997). Twidale (1999), in "A plea for the best of the past - suggestions for teaching about landforms," notes that students need to know the terms for landforms and their modes of formation, just as students need basic facts in other subject areas, and "some means must be found of facilitating the acquiring of such information" (p.244).

Learning vocabulary is a necessary part of science instruction. Students need words to discuss their ideas with others and to process them mentally (Vygotsky, 1989). Yager (1983), in analyzing K-12 science textbooks, which are central to most science instruction, found, "the number of words introduced at every level is considerable - often more than would be required if a new language were being introduced" (p. 577). Nelson-Herber (1986) suggested the problem is not that students lack reading skills to assimilate the new vocabulary, but that they lack the prior conceptual knowledge to construct meaning for the new terms. Balaithy (1988) supported this idea by reasoning that students copy reports from encyclopedias rather than writing their own words because they lack experience and vocabulary.

Three national professional groups have produced standards indicating that landforms be part of the elementary curriculum. A consortium of professional geography associations, which included the National Geographic Society, published the National Geographic Education Standards (Geography Education Standards Project, 1994) that included knowledge of landforms. This document, under "Physical Systems", Standard 7 states, "The geographically informed person knows and understands the physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface." Marran (1995) analyzed the verbs used in the National Geography Standards. He identified the most commonly used verbs and the frequency of their use at different grade levels. For the fourth grade level, students were most frequently asked to describe and identify, followed by compare, explain, locate, analyze, and use. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.