Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Practice with a Variety of Texts
Let students take notes on the same topic, but use a variety of different texts. Then, have them go back and make a chart showing what information repeats, and what unique tidbits certain texts might have to offer.
Practice Restating & Paraphrasing
One of the hardest things about taking notes in science is learning to put things into your own words. Teach students to read, then look away from the text and restate the idea in their own words prior to jotting anything down.
Writing in science can be so exciting, but it can also be daunting. Here are some strategies for developing your students into strong scientific writers.
Students do their best writing when given an explicit organizational structure. Decide how you want them to start their writing and how you want them to end it. Providing graphic organizers can be a great way to help students keep their thoughts in order.
Opportunities to Share
Students often write better when they know their writing will be met by an appreciative audience. Whether your students are writing lab reports or describing their observations of nature, make sure you give them a chance to share their work with classmates and families.
Sometimes, students can do better writing in science when you also give them the opportunity to incorporate drawings, graphs or diagrams. Ask students to start by creating an image, then write about what they drew or created. This will be a great jumping off point for the rest of their writing.
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