A glossary is an alphabetical list of specialised or technical words, terms or abbreviations and their definitions, usually related to a specific discipline or field of knowledge.
Why are glossaries useful to our students?
Glossaries can be useful for helping students identify and acquire the vocabulary of the discipline. Having students intuitively understand words from their use in readings or in class is often not the best solution since not all students have the skills required to learn vocabulary from limited exposure. Additionally, providing a glossary ensures that students have an accurate source for word definitions.
By learning and understanding the words found in the glossary the student can become more adapt at properly using the discipline specific vocabulary and through practice acquire a better understanding of the related concepts. Glossaries can be used to provide our students with not only the definitions, but examples of using the words in context.
Where are glossaries found?
In many textbooks, glossaries can be found at the back of each chapter or at the end of the book, just before the index. You can also find glossaries on many different topics through online searches.
The best glossaries though, are the ones we as teachers provide or develop with our students, vocabularies that are specific to our topic/discipline and that direct the students to the words they will need to acquire, understand, and use in our courses. A bilingual glossary may be particularly useful for our non-Anglophone students.
If the students are expected to build their own discipline/course/topic specific glossary, it is important that you provide them with a list or source for the relevant words, and a source or location to find the definitions. Alternatively, check their glossaries periodically to ensure that they are defining the words properly. Many technical and scientific words have different meanings depending on the discipline and not all sources (especially online) are reliable. It is also a good idea to ask your students to include examples of uses of the words in their glossary.
Having the students build their own glossaries has the added advantage that the student must find the word, read and then copy the definition, and find or create an example of how the word may be used in the field. This means they process the information in multiple ways, which improves learning. If you have students build their own glossaries, they should cite the sources of their information.
If you have decided that for your discipline the definitions available online are not reliable and there is no accessible source for students to use to build their own glossary, you can provide your students with the glossary, in which case, you will need to develop exercises or assignments that provide them with opportunities to practice using the terms. Alternatively, you can have the students build their own glossary in class by identifying the words they should include as you progress through the material. Allow time for them to write down the words, and the definitions you provide, as you present. A way to involve them in the process might be to place the responsibility of coming up with examples of how to use the terms as part of an in-class or homework assignment.
As students learn this specialized vocabulary, don’t forget to monitor their use of the words in written work and oral presentations. The purpose is not simply for them to learn the meaning of the words but to use them in context correctly.
Pedagogical Development Office