Lesson Plans

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Jargon-Busting Words of the Workplace

Lesson Question:

How can students use the Visual Thesaurus and other online tools to investigate the jargon of a particular profession?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students will research the particular jargon of a profession that interests them by using online resources and by conducting an interview with an expert in the field. They will then synthesize their knowledge by creating workplace writing samples that contain some of the terms they have learned.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  • understand the concept of professional jargon
  • use the Visual Thesaurus to identify meanings of words specific to professional contexts
  • conduct online research and interviews to learn more about the jargon of a particular profession
  • synthesize their knowledge of professional jargon by writing a workplace communication using jargon


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  •  "Jargon-Busting Words of the Workplace" sheets (one per student) [click here to download]



Introducing an example of workplace jargon:

  • Present students with the following multiple choice question to answer individually in their notes:

A lancet is...

a.      a handgrip on a horse's saddle

b.      a surgical knife with a pointed double-edged blade

c.      an acutely pointed Gothic arch

d.      a fishing rod intended to catch bottom-dwellers

  • Elicit votes for each of the four multiple choice options.
  • On a white board, display the Visual Thesaurus word map for lancet and reveal both of its meanings (by scrolling over the red meaning bubbles) — establishing that multiple choice options b and c were both correct. A lancet in medicine refers to "a surgical knife" while in architecture a lancet refers to "a pointed Gothic arch..." (If you right-click on lancet arch in the display, and choose "Search for Images," you can show students a multitude of architectural lancet arches.)




Modeling online searches for workplace jargon:

  • Now that students have learned that lancet has distinct meanings in two different professional fields, explain to students that most professions, hobbies, or fields have their own unique vocabulary or jargon.
As a way to illustrate that each profession has its own language, you could perform a search (using a search engine like Google or Bing) using a profession's name and the word jargon. For example if you search for "legal jargon," you'll find many web pages dedicated to explaining words and phrases related to law; if you search for "banking jargon," you'll learn about words used in banking, and if you search for "rock climbing jargon," you can even find online glossaries of rock climbing terms.

Using the Visual Thesaurus to define professional jargon:

  • Distribute "Jargon Busting Words of the Workplace" sheets.
  • Ask students to choose a career or field from this sheet (or on their own) that they would like to investigate further, in terms of its unique jargon.
  • Students can jumpstart their research with the Visual Thesaurus by searching for the terms on the sheet  and identifying the specific meanings from the VT word map displays that would apply in that particular work context. For example, if a student chooses to research Computer Science, they would note the definition of firewall pertaining to computer science — not to firefighting.
  • Have students conduct additional research on the Internet to find more profession-related terms and meanings not listed on the sheet. (These words might also not be defined in the Visual Thesaurus database since they are unique to that career field, and not used in common communication.)

Conducting interviews with experts in the field:

  • Ask each student (or student partnership) to schedule a brief interview with someone in the professional field that they are researching.
  • Here is a list of possible questions they could include in their interviews:
  • What words or phrases do you use in your job that you assume most people outside of your field would not understand?
  • What's your favorite word or phrase that you've learned at work?
  • What is your least favorite?
  • When you started your job, what were some of the most confusing words or phrases you encountered?
  • How did you figure out the jargon of your workplace?
  • If I wanted to learn more about the jargon in your workplace, what resources could I use?


Producing writing samples using professional jargon:

  • Once students have conducted interviews and research regarding the jargon of a particular career field, ask them to produce a piece of writing containing at least four or five of the terms they have recently learned.
  • Give students a wide range of writing choices: a mock work memo, a mock job description, or a mock work log, etc. (see The Purdue Online Writing Lab for a variety of resources on different modes of professional and technical writing).
  • Each student could exchange his workplace writing sample with another student who explored another field of jargon, and they could try to "translate" the writing with the aid of the Visual Thesaurus or other online resources.
  • If time permits, hold a discussion about which words were unique to particular professions and which words were shared among professions – but with distinct meanings in each. For example, how do the words bias, draft, firewall, suit, tour, and track take on different meanings depending upon professional context?

Extending the Lesson:

Interested students could further their research into professional jargon by looking at neologisms in different subject areas. Two particular web sites that focus on such material are Double-Tongued.org and Wordspy.com. For added challenge, students should brainstorm a few original neologisms that could be added to a particular professional category.


  • Assess students' completed "Jargon Busting Words of the Workplace" sheets to see if they accurately identified terms and meanings associated with their chosen profession.
  • Assess students' writing samples to see if they smoothly incorporated professional jargon in a clear and meaningful way.

Educational Standards:

Language Arts

Standard 4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Level III (Grades 6-8)
1. Gathers data for research topics from interviews (e.g., prepares and asks relevant questions, makes notes of responses, compiles responses)
2. Uses a variety of resource materials to gather information for research topics (e.g., magazines, newspapers, dictionaries, schedules, journals, surveys, globes, atlases, almanacs, websites, databases, podcasts)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)
1. Uses appropriate research methodology (e.g., formulates questions and refines topics, develops a plan for research; organizes what is known about a topic; uses appropriate research methods, such as questionnaires, experiments, field studies; collects information to narrow and develop a topic and support a thesis)
2. Uses a variety of print and electronic sources to gather information for research topics (e.g., news sources such as magazines, radio, television, and newspapers; government publications and microfiche; library databases; field studies; speeches; technical documents; periodicals; Internet sources, such as web sites, podcasts, blogs, and electronic bulletin boards)
5. Synthesizes information from multiple sources to draw conclusions that go beyond those found in any of the individual sources

Standard 7. Uses skills and strategies to read a variety of informational texts

Level III (Grades 6-8)
1. Reads a variety of informational texts (e.g., electronic texts; textbooks; biographical sketches; directions; essays; primary source historical documents, including letters and diaries; print media, including editorials, news stories, periodicals, and magazines; consumer, workplace, and public documents, including catalogs, technical directions, procedures, and bus routes)  
3. Summarizes and paraphrases information in texts (e.g., arranges information in chronological or sequential order; conveys main ideas, critical details, and underlying meaning; uses own words or quoted materials; preserves author's perspective and voice) 
Level IV (Grades 9-12)
1. Reads a variety of informational texts (e.g., textbooks, biographical sketches, letters, diaries, directions, procedures, magazines, essays, primary source historical documents, editorials, news stories, periodicals, catalogs, job-related materials, schedules, speeches, memoranda, public documents, maps) 
3. Summarizes and paraphrases complex, implicit hierarchic structures in informational texts (e.g., the introduction and development of central ideas, the relationships among concepts and details)
5. Uses text features and elements to support inferences and generalizations about information (e.g., vocabulary, language use, expository structure, format, arguments and evidence, omissions or ambiguities)

See also the Common Core State Standards for ELA and Literacy (PDF, pages 29, 53, and 55)

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