Monday, September 15, 2014

Science and Writing: A Natural Pair

Teaching science goes so well with teaching writing! Kids naturally enjoy learning about science. When they learn, they want to write...and they have to grapple with the best ways to express their ideas. Writing instruction blossoms from science activities.

But it's not always so simple, of course. It does take some planning, some preparation, and a big dash of serendipity to get the most out of the connections between science and writing.

We love visiting nearby parks and poking about
in streams together!

The planning may not always be what teachers typically think of as planning. It's not always writing essential questions in little boxes! Squeezing the most learning out of teachable moments requires a broad knowledge of both science and writing standards. In addition, I try to learn as much as I can about the background details of what I am teaching.

So I take every chance to learn about geology, animal adaptations, day/night, and seasonal changes...I know that I may have to draw on this knowledge to guide student investigations. Following scientists and museums on Twitter is an easy way to build my background knowledge. Luckily my kids like "adventuring" so we all learn together.

Informal activities
Science writing starts with the informal activities that I have in the classroom. Toads, crickets, and praying mantises are all highly motivating for students, and a great way to get kids writing. We draw pictures, add labels, and take notes.

In third and fourth grades, students have trouble generating data tables independently, so this is a task that I take on at first. I like to have a Bird Observation binder for students to record what we see at the window. When students take notes, other students sometimes ask questions: "What were they doing? How many did you see?" These are the kinds of questions that scientists as writers need to answer!

Trays set up for our litmus paper experiment.
Even a task as mundane as lunch count can be the beginning of science writing. I have a student keeping track of our menu items and # buying and packing each day. Today he came to show me an interesting anomaly in the data. Little does he know that this data will be used next week when we talk about drawing conclusions!

Formal activities
Scientists also need opportunities for formal writing. One thing that I have learned is that students thrive on real experiences and clear prompts. Last week, while learning about classification, students classified liquids as acids or not acids, using litmus paper as an indicator.

Because it is so early in the year, I offered students a writing prompt with a writing frame. In the prompt, students take on the role of science teacher and write to their principal regarding the importance of litmus paper. (Requesting supplies is a fairly common writing task for
scientists, of course!) The writing frame helps students to see the kind of formal writing and sentence structure used in this kind of science writing. Students also enjoyed signing their names as "Mr." or "Miss" at the end.

In future writing prompts, students will take on varying roles. We do these prompts about once a month, and they always relate directly to activities we have done in class. Engaging real life experiences enrich student writing. Students elaborate more and use richer vocabulary when they are writing about class experiences.

Advance planning, informal experiences, and formal writing opportunities help students to see the natural connections between science and writing.

News and Notes
-A new version of November Reading Homework is now available. Revised file numbers, minor formatting updates, and an end of month assessment are available.
-In my classroom this week, I'm using character traits materials from Character Traits and Emotions along with stories from Teaching About Theme.
-Check out the great tutorials on Frolyc! Frolyc is a way to publish activities to student iPads. Many of my texts are available. You can hear me explain how to build these activities on the YouTube playlist.

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