Monday, September 16, 2013

Teaching bones & bone features

I've found that one of the things that stand in the way of student success in learning the anatomy of the skeleton is that they don't know the underlying language.

If they already knew that a foramen is a hole and a condyle is a bump, then they could make short work of identifying and learning a long list of bones and bone features. And they'd have a better understanding of the concepts, plus an easier time remembering each structure for the long term.

We can't do anything about the fact that they just don't teach Latin as a required subject  in grade schools and high schools anymore.  But that doesn't mean there's nothing we can do to give them a head start on learning the skull!

For a long time, I've started out my students learning the general types of bone features before starting on the specific skeletal structures.  I find that they have a much easier time identifying structures because they have a better understanding of what the bone names mean.  They know they're looking for a hole when they get to the foramen ovale.  That oblong dark spot in the skull diagram or photo could be a bump, for all they know.

I use the list of general types of bone features found in my textbooks, lab manuals, and other publications (see list below).  I've also provided you with a downloadable version of this list you can link to in your course or distribute as a handout (see links below).

I've just uploaded two videos to my YouTube channel that help students get started this way.  You can link to the videos in an email, syllabus, or LMS; embed them in your course website or LMS; or embed them in a PowerPoint slide.  Or you could use the slides I used in the video to make your own video or live presentationperhaps even customize it for your course.  This links to all of these resources are below.

I'll be posting these videos on my study-tip blog for students, The A&P Student, soon.  If your students are not yet using this blog, you can distribute my FREE bookmarks to get them started.  See below for details.

Want to know more?

Bone Names Have Meaning - Part 1 - Get Started (video)
  • by Kevin Patton, Kevin's YouTube Channel,  uploaded September 2013
  • Video briefly explains the importance of knowing the meaning of bone names and how to get started doing that.  Includes link to list of bone features.
  • Link URL:
  • Embed code is available once you link to the above URL and click "Share"
Bone Names Have Meaning - Part 2 - Types of Bone Markings (video)
  • by Kevin Patton, Kevin's YouTube Channel, uploaded September 2013
  • Brief video runs through each of the major bone feature types, showing one or more examples. Includes link to list of bone features.
  • Link URL:
  • Embed code is available once you link to the above URL and click "Share"
Bone-Names-1-2 (PowerPoint slides)
  • by Kevin Patton, Lion Den Slide Collection,  September 2013
  • Download these animated slides I used to make the videos and use them in your recorded or live presentation.  The slide notes include the narration, which you could customize (or ignore).  You can use some or all of the slides.
  • To get the download password, fill out the form at
Bone Names (web page)
  • by Kevin Patton, Lion Den Study Tips & Tools
  • Web page for students briefly outlining how to get started learning bone structures. The videos above are embedded in the page, so you could link to this page in your course instead of linking to the individual videos.  Links to related, downloadable lists. Part of the Field Guide to the Body.
List of Bone Markings
Lion Den Slide Collection
  • by Kevin Patton, Lion Den Slide Collection
  • Download all kinds of  animated slides you can use in your own course to supplement your own slides and those provided with your textbook or school. Most slides are animated.
  • To get access to the whole collection, fill out the form at
Free Bookmarks
  • Get packs of 50 bookmarks to distribute to students.  The bookmarks tell students how to access The A&P Student blog, which has a collection of study tips for A&P.


Kevin Patton said...

I just posted an article to my blog for A&P students (The A&P Student) summarizing my tips on learning bone names. Check in out at

And please make this link available to your students. Some of them, maybe all of them, might pick up some tips that could help them learn their bone markings . . . and maybe help them with other anatomical challenges, too!

Jeni Lawrence said...

Professor Patton-

I am an education student at the University of Michigan. I am currently teaching 11th grade Anatomy and Physiology at a high school in Whitmore Lake, MIchigan. I have gotten so many helpful hints and ideas from your blog! This last post was genius! It makes so much sense to teach students the terminology before diving into the anatomy. Do you start every unit off like this or just bones? My students really struggle with the memorization this course requires so I think teaching them the basic vocab beforehand would prove very useful.

Thank you for all of your helpful posts and great ideas for the classroom!
Jenalyn Lawrence

Kevin Patton said...

Thanks for the kind words about my blog. I'm gratified to hear that I'm helping folks.

In response to your question, I start out my A&P course by telling my students that they are learning a new language and if they ignore that part of it, it's going to be very confusing.

Then, in every section, I take every opportunity to break down new terms into their component word parts so that everyone starts thinking of the terms as foreign phrases. Hopefully, they start doing that automatically themselves as they encounter new terms.

I have videos for both skeletal terms and muscle names because with these topics especially, students are flooded with a long list of terms and get very intimidated. So I've found that revealing the mystery of names takes some of the scariness out of it.

I use a textbook that I wrote in which each chapter begins with a list of all the boldface terms along with a pronunciation guide and translation of all the word parts. Students who use this list report that it helps them a lot to start with the terminology and work their way from there. For my books with such lists, check out

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