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Common Core Standards: ELA - Literacy See All Teacher Resources



Grade 9-10

Reading RST.9-10.4

RST.9-10.4. Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 9-10 texts and topics.

Set the Stage

While finding the meaning of key terms is often made easy by the publisher’s use of bold text and color, students need to understand that they can’t solely rely on these text features in locating and defining important content terms. Bolded vocabulary words are a good starting point, but students also need to be able to read a text and identify on their own the important content vocabulary. Students also need to be able to use context clues to define these words if they are unfamiliar. This standard is just more good reading skills that your students are likely familiar with from English class, but they may need some guidance in applying their skills to more scientific or technical texts.


Dress Rehearsal

Hang on to your hats, boys and girls! Your teacher has asked you to read and study the section, “Hurricanes” in your text. Much of the information is based on the study of a satellite picture from above the earth showing a cross-sectional view of a hurricane, including the wind patterns, and a weather map that indicates changes in atmospheric pressure and wind directions.

In order to understand the relationship between stormy weather and decreasing atmospheric pressures, you will need to understand the symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in this context. You’ve seen plenty of awesome storms on YouTube, so finally understanding them might be fun!

Because you are studying hurricanes, there will be words that are particular to the study of these storms: hurricane, atmospheric pressure, westward-flowing winds, surface winds, high-altitude winds, moisture-laden air, the eye of a hurricane, and isobars. Your text has a number of ways in which to define these, including a clear definition, an explanation, or to say what it is not.

Texts sometimes bold or italicize key terms and phrases. Very often, the term is defined in the same sentence as the first mention of the word. At other times, immediately following the term, a number of sentences might list or describe the characteristics of the term. For example, the term hurricane might be defined as “a storm with a violent wind, in a particular tropical cyclone occurring in the Caribbean.”

This definition is then followed by much more information that gives further details: “A severe tropical cyclone having winds greater than 64 knots (74 miles per hour; 119 kilometers per hour), originating in the equatorial regions of the Atlantic Ocean or Caribbean Sea or eastern regions of the Pacific Ocean, traveling north, northwest, or northeast from its point of origin, and usually involving heavy rains.” More detail than you thought possible, but it’s all relevant to the topic of hurricanes.

Also, a hurricane is different from a typhoon. Similarly, other terms will be defined and described. If your text does not define a term, perhaps you have studied it already, and it’s been forgotten. In that case, take advantage of the glossary at the back of the book.

There will also be content-specific phrases that you’ll need to define. In this example, you are asked to determine what trade winds are. Your text goes on to define them as “westward flowing winds that carry most hurricanes toward the U.S. coast.”

Symbols are another source of content-specific information, and it’s important to remember what they stand for. For example, in “Hurricanes,” the symbol for a normal atmospheric pressure is 100 kPa. Usually, you will find the symbols explained within the text. It is important to know the meanings of the symbols in order to draw conclusions, say, from a weather map on hurricane activity.

A great textbook is user-friendly. You should be able to find the meaning of symbols, terms, and phrases unique to your topic readily available. If not in the text, check out the glossary at the back of the book, or look over previous notes from other sections and chapters. You know, no one gives you permission to forget!


Morrison, Earl, et al. Science Plus: Technology and Society. Texas: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1993.

That’s a Wrap

Providing students with a working vocabulary for a particular subject allows for re-enforcement of important concepts. They will be better able to interpret, discuss, and explain scientific or technical material when they can use the right words. Being able to read the text and recognize these key terms is one of the first skills in helping them develop domain-specific vocabulary.

Quiz Questions

Here's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.

Match the letter of the description to the term listed.

  1. _____ symbol

    Correct Answer:

    a mark or character used as a conventional representation of an object, function, or process

    Answer Explanation:

    A symbol is shorthand for something, and each discipline will have its own set of symbols. It’s not necessary for you to have all of them memorized, as long as you know how to find their meanings when needed.

  2. _____ domain-specific

    Correct Answer:

    a range of knowledge or vocabulary unique to a topic, subject, or profession

    Answer Explanation:

    Domain-specific means particular to a certain subject or topic. Some words that you use in science, you would never use in any other class – that’s domain specific.

  3. _____ key term

    Correct Answer:

    an important word or group of words designating something, especially in a particular field

    Answer Explanation:

    Key = important. You knew that one.

  4. _____ context

    Correct Answer:

    situation or perspective

    Answer Explanation:

    You should know how to define and use words in context, meaning in a particular situation. Many words change meaning depending on the context, so this is an important one. Go back to those context clues!

  5. _____ glossary

    Correct Answer:

    a list of often difficult or specialized words with their definitions, often placed at the back of a book

    Answer Explanation:

    It’s like a mini, content-specific dictionary right there in your textbook. Brilliant!

  6. _____ properties

    Correct Answer:

    a characteristic of a sample of matter that is fixed by its state

    Answer Explanation:

    This definition sounds highly technical, but remember, a property is a characteristic or feature of something.

  7. _____ scientific

    Correct Answer:

    relating to or used in science

    Answer Explanation:

    Scientific...science...that was an easy one.

  8. _____ technical

    Correct Answer:

    having special and usually practical knowledge, especially of a mechanical or scientific subject

    Answer Explanation:

    Technical is like technology – related to science or mechanics.

  9. _____ relevant

    Correct Answer:

    closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand

    Answer Explanation:

    Relevant = related or closely connected. You know, like how your relatives are closely connected to you.

Aligned Resources