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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Teaching Content Through Literacy

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Lynn Gilbert helps students discern fiction from nonfiction text and to determine which is easier to read in the context of science literacy.

Teacher: Lynn Gilbert

School: Conrad Ball Middle School, Loveland, CO

Grade: 7

Discipline: Science

Lesson Topic: Using a graphic organizer to explore nonfiction text; the connection between photosynthesis and deforestation

Lesson Month: May

Number of Students: 32

Featured Lesson’s Student Goals:

  • Content objectives – Use various types of nonfiction text to investigate the sources of photosynthesis, leading to the connection between photosynthesis and deforestation
  • Literacy/language objectives – Create a graphic organizer for multiple resources and various types of texts
  • Engagement/interaction objectives – Participate in large-group discussion and small-group collaboration

Standards Addressed:

Next Generation Science Standards 

  • LS1.C Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms
    Plants use energy from light to make sugars (food) from carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water through the process of photosynthesis, which also releases oxygen. These sugars can be used immediately or stored for growth or later use.
  • PS3.D Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life
    The chemical reaction by which plants produce complex food molecules (sugars) requires an energy input (i.e., from sunlight) to occur.

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.1
    Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.2
    Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.10
    By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend science/technical texts in the grades 6–8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

Instruction Details:

The Unit
This three-week unit fell in the middle of the science curriculum, which was just one semester in length. This lesson came near the middle/end of the plant unit, prior to the class moving on to the ecology unit.

Before the Video
Earlier in the semester, Ms. Gilbert focused students on the differences in how one reads fiction and nonfiction texts. She started reading a fiction book in the middle of a passage. She asked students to explain what was going on. They had difficulty making sense of the material. Then, she did the same with a science textbook. From a similar-length passage, students could more easily explain some of the information they heard. When Ms. Gilbert posed further questions, students were able to use the index, glossary, and other features to find information in the science text.

Throughout the semester, students continued to explore how to access information from nonfiction texts. They made a poster about nonfiction text features that Ms. Gilbert hung in the classroom for use as a reference. She also taught them the concept of “cheat reading,” in which readers maximize their time when reading a nonfiction text by focusing on certain features first (such as images, captions, or bolded words) to see if that section of text is relevant to what they are trying to learn or if they should focus on another section of text.

During the Video
Ms. Gilbert began the lesson with a “Do Now,” a warm-up in which students reviewed the difference between fiction and nonfiction text. They looked inside their science textbooks for examples of different features of nonfiction text that could provide information. They also reviewed how to search a nonfiction text to find the specific information they need, such as looking for bold words or images.

Next, Ms. Gilbert told students they would be using five different types of text to answer questions and would use a graphic organizer to hold the information. They would begin by watching Ms. Gilbert model the process, work with a partner, and finally work independently. This process is called “I do,” “we do,” “you do.”

Ms. Gilbert provided students with a graphic organizer and began to model how to compare two resources—a map and video—about photosynthesis. She asked students to discuss one of the questions in the graphic organizer with their partner. They then discussed as a whole class how to fill in the final section of that graphic organizer. Next, Ms. Gilbert had students fill out a new graphic organizer with a partner. As students worked, Ms. Gilbert circulated through the room to provide guidance. She then brought students back together as a whole class to review their findings.

Next, Ms. Gilbert told students that they would be writing an argumentative piece about deforestation. She reviewed with them the questions they would need to answer before they could write about the topic—the five Ws and an H (who, what, when, where, why, and how). She then gave students an assignment that would prepare them for writing: using four provided resources, they would create a graphic organizer to hold their thinking. This graphic organizer would serve as the evidence in the final assignment, a CER (claim-evidence-reasoning paragraph).

After the Video
While filling out their graphic organizers, students continued to use the various resources to explore why deforestation increased when it did. They wrote their CER argumentative piece on the topic, including the evidence they had culled to prove their stated point of view.

Teacher Prep
To prepare for the lesson, Ms. Gilbert looked for sources that represented the types of texts she wanted students to use: graphs, videos, maps, charts, and written material. She wanted to use a map to connect with social studies, and specifically selected one that had a key that also brought in mathematics. Ms. Gilbert likes to search for resources online and was able to find what she needed for this lesson. She also designed a graphic organizer that students could use as a guide while looking at the different resources.

Prior Knowledge
To participate in this lesson, students needed to have an understanding of different text features in nonfiction writing. They needed to know how to choose and set up different types of graphic organizers—such as T-charts, webs, or three-column notes—to hold their thinking. They also needed to know the characteristics and needs of living things.

Differentiated Instruction
Ms. Gilbert has a range of students in her class who may be ready at different times for independent work during the gradual release of responsibility tasks. Because this lesson was late in the year, students had already had a lot of practice filling out graphic organizers; thus, Ms. Gilbert felt comfortable giving them more opportunities to work independently. To support students who continued to need more guidance, Ms. Gilbert provided some students with preprinted graphic organizers that had the topics identified (rather than having them create the organizer on their own). Ms. Gilbert also likes to use graphic organizers because they provide a huge scaffold for students who have difficulty knowing how to start writing.

Ms. Gilbert allowed students to take in information and provide their answers in a variety of ways. For examples, students had the option to draw pictures in their graphic organizer instead of writing text. Ms. Gilbert uses leveled texts to provide similar content to students who are at different reading levels. This allows students to access the information at the right level; also, because the different leveled texts are similar in appearance, struggling readers are not singled out.

Group Interaction
Students worked with partners during the “we do” portion of the lesson to fill out a graphic organizer with information about photosynthesis.

Resources and Tools

  • Document camera
  • Graphic organizer
  • Resources posted on Schoology on an iPad
  • Maps
  • Bar graphs
  • Line graphs
  • Video
  • Nonfiction text sources


Formative Assessment
Ms. Gilbert used the pair discussions as an opportunity to walk around the class and assess students’ understanding. This helped her determine when she could release them to work more independently. She also used the graphic organizer and the class discussions as formative assessments to gauge students’ readiness for the final writing assignment.

Student Self-Assessment
Students used a rubric to self-assess the CERs that they completed after this lesson.

Summative Assessment
The graphic organizer was used as the summative assessment for the work during the video. The CER served as the summative assessment for the overall lesson. Ms. Gilbert looked to see if students could make a clear claim, use evidence to support their reasoning, and cite their sources for their evidence. Students were also held accountable for correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Ongoing Assessment
Ms. Gilbert uses every opportunity to walk around the classroom to monitor students’ understanding. She observes students during group and independent work to make sure they are on track and steps in with questions to guide their thinking when they require additional support.

Series Directory

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2015.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-906-4