Literacy Strategies for Science

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

As a science teacher, you might be wondering how to boost your students' literacy while you teach the content of your course. This lesson will give you some concrete literacy strategies to use in science class.

Why Teach Literacy in Science?

When you became a science teacher, you may have pictured yourself just doing experiments with children and helping them make discoveries. Yet, you'll soon learn that a big part of learning and teaching science actually has to do with reading and writing. Most of the background knowledge that students will need, as well as the skills they should develop in order to do their best work and thinking, will come from reading scientific texts. Further, when students know how to write well, they will be better able to explain their questions, procedures and findings in sensible and analytical ways. For all of these reasons, it is deeply important for teachers of science to incorporate literacy instruction. Reading and writing in science is not the same as reading and writing fiction, so, as a science teacher, you have the unique opportunity to develop skills that students can use in scientific work for the rest of their lives. This lesson offers you some key strategies for increasing students' science literacy.

Build Vocabulary

One of the most important ways you can help students become literate in science is by building their vocabulary. When planning a new unit, think about which particular, specialized words will help students read and write about the topic at hand. Some great ways to build science vocabulary include:

Science Word Wall

Keep a wall in your class dedicated to posting content area words for students to reference. You may choose to include definitions or you might just post the words. Encourage students to refer to the wall when they are reading and writing.

Vocabulary Games

Have students do word hunts for science vocabulary, play bingo with science vocabulary words, or make flashcards to test their own memory. This will help students activate science vocabulary while still having fun.

Fill-in-the-Blank Activities

Give students passages to read with key words removed, and have them fill in the blanks so that the passages make sense. This will help students solidify their understanding of key scientific terms.

Teach Note-Taking Skills

Another really important aspect of scientific literacy is learning how to take notes. Taking good notes will help students remember what they have learned when reading scientific texts and will give them something concrete to refer back to. Taking good notes is also a way to synthesize information from a variety of sources and figure out what information matters most. Here are some strategies for teaching note-taking.

Work with Partners

Give pairs of students texts to read together and have them work as a team to figure out what key pieces of information are worth jotting down. By working on this together, students will be encouraged to articulate what makes information worth remembering.

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