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Variation theory based approaches to teaching subject-specific vocabulary within differing practical subjects

Alice Driver (Ormiston Victory Academy, Norwich, UK)
Katherine Elliott (Ormiston Victory Academy, Norwich, UK)
Andrew Wilson (Ormiston Victory Academy, Norwich, UK)

International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies

ISSN: 2046-8253

Article publication date: 5 January 2015




The purpose of this paper is to describe how a learning study model, guided by variation theory, can be used to improve lesson design and a pupil’s understanding of key words and vocabulary in the context of three different subjects, namely art, dance and science.


Three lesson designs were used with three groups of pupils from the same year group. In each case, pupils were given either visual or audio stimuli to describe and compare prior to being introduced to the keywords. Pupil interviews, observations and pre- and post-lesson tasks were used in each case to assess the success of the strategy and the impact it had on the understanding of different ability-level students. The results from each lesson were analysed and utilised to improve the design of the subsequent lesson.


The results of the study found that this approach was successful, with pupils able to produce their own definitions, including a reference to relevant critical features following the lesson, and that in most cases this information was retained. The strategy was most effective at reinforcing concepts and vocabulary, and was preferred by low- and mid-ability pupils, whereas higher-ability pupils preferred to use specific terminology from the outset.


Many published learning studies have been carried out within subjects, concentrating on a particular learning object that pupils have difficulty with. In this study the authors have demonstrated that this approach can also be employed as a successful approach to promote pupil learning across different subjects.



Driver, A., Elliott, K. and Wilson, A. (2015), "Variation theory based approaches to teaching subject-specific vocabulary within differing practical subjects", International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 72-90.



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