Learn how to combine literacy into your science classes
It was the spring before state testing, and my fifth graders had learned how communities use scientific ideas to protect the earth’s resources. Students had to write an informational article to explain their research and findings. I had Spanish speaking students who had just moved to our community and were learning English. We worked with our two languages to find information and package it into a Fifth Grade Briefing Response. Throughout our unit we have used practical academic materials, language frames, partner discussions, partner reading and explicit vocabulary instruction to support their English acquisition. Although frustrated at times, these two students were motivated to continue because you helped them access the science content.
What I have seen first hand as a teacher has also had an impact on formal research. A recent study from Texas A&M University tracked the science performance of a cohort of fifth-grade students over five years and found the same results. The Literacy-Infused Science Using Technology Opportunities project, also known as Project LISTO, aimed to improve student performance in science and literacy by working with teachers and administrators to build classroom capacity. Teachers used explicit vocabulary instruction, strategic partner reading, and a standards-based science curriculum. Students and their families even had the opportunity to connect with university science students to talk about related careers in science.
The children have already been taught reading strategies. But to connect it to a scientific concept, it kind of made them make that connection, oh it’s not just my reading class. It also feeds into my science. So I think it helped kids to be more versatile.” – Laura Cerda, sixth grade teacher, on the LISTO project
Their results proved that adding literacy to science classes boosts students’ academic achievement in both reading and science. Here are some of the emerging themes from the study:
- Adding reading and writing strategies to science classes increases student engagement.
- Academic and science vocabulary knowledge increases when you add literacy to science classes.
- Students feel more confident reading science.
So how can you incorporate literacy into your science classes? Check out these recommendations based on the results of the LISTO study.
Use reading strategies.
An effective yet simple way to incorporate literacy into your science class is to use pre-reading, during-reading, and post-reading strategies during the lesson. One reading strategy you can use with students is to emphasize the textual characteristics of a reading passage. You can tell the students what they will notice about the passage, e.g. B. boldfaced terms or bulleted statements. This is an opportunity to let your students know that when they see these text elements, they should highlight them for reference because they are important terms.
Support student thinking through the use of language frames.
Cause and effect, compare and contrast, and make assertions—these academic vocabulary terms are used throughout science education. Expressions such as “cause and effect” and “compare and contrast” are also known as language frames and help students to teach their scientific thinking. Giving students a chance to practice using these expressions in science is another way to add literacy skills to your science lessons.
Laura Cerda, a sixth-grade teacher at the Donna Independent School District in Texas, shared how using language frames has helped her students: “Using sentence stemming allows us to focus on important information instead of just waiting for the information to come out.” Students complete this entire sentence. Plus, it helps them build their sentences.”
Be aware when teaching science vocabulary.
Take the time to teach explicit science vocabulary. It’s more than just drawing a picture that defines a word. Project LISTO’s curriculum for explicitly teaching vocabulary involves using hyphenation – breaking words into syllables – when introducing the word and making sure you use student-friendly definitions. Give students the part of speech and use realistic color pictures to show students real-life examples. Practicing the word in context by asking a question also supports students in learning how to use the word in a sentence themselves.
Incorporate collaborative questioning into your lessons.
The collaborative question model is a great way to get your students talking and listening during group discussions, and it also makes the science tasks a lot more fun to complete! It’s also easy to integrate. The teacher asks the students a question. All students use some waiting time to think about their answers. Then they take a few minutes to discuss the question with a partner. After students have had a chance to discuss the question, they can now share their answers with the class.
Have students present information to the class.
After students learn a specific science skill or idea, have them gather that information and create a presentation to share with their classmates. This will get students talking in front of others, and it will also help your entire class listen. Have listening students write down three questions they have for the speaker. Then have the speaker answer some of these questions to close their presentation.
Create anchor charts.
Create anchor charts as you teach science and use them to collect students’ ideas about the science topic they are learning about. If you’re having a collaborative discussion with your class, you can write students’ ideas and questions in the anchor table while incorporating important academic and research vocabulary. The anchor chart can be something you will come back to throughout your unit as your students gain more knowledge of the topic.