Reading & Writing in the Disciplines
Power Writing for Science
Amy Miles uses a “power writing” exercise to build writing skills and reinforce background knowledge.
Teacher: Amy Miles
School: Health Sciences High and Middle College Middle School, San Diego, CA
Lesson Topic: Learning about rocks
Lesson Month: March
Number of Students: 35
Other: Health Sciences High and Middle College is a health-focused charter school.
Featured Lesson’s Student Goals:
- Content objectives – Understand types of rocks, their formation, and why it’s important to know about rocks
- Literacy/language objectives – Use scientific language to discuss ideas about rocks
- Engagement/interaction objectives – Work independently and collaboratively as a contributing member of the class
Next Generation Science Standards
- MS-ESS2-2 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth’s surfaces at various time and spatial scales.
- MS-ESS2-3. Analyze and interpret data on the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures to provide evidence of the past plate motions.
Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to an understanding of the topic.
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
This unit was focused on Earth’s layers. Students first learned about the universe and space exploration, moved on to Earth’s atmosphere (including weather and climate), and then honed in on what is inside Earth. This lesson on rocks occurred in the middle of the unit.
Before the Video
Without yet having discussed rocks with her class, Ms. Miles asked students to do a timed “power write” to pull up any background knowledge they already have on rocks; she also wanted to get students curious and excited about the lesson ahead. Ms. Miles wanted to reinforce the importance of writing in science for her students, so she placed an emphasis on word count rather than technical skills like grammar or spelling. Students shared and discussed their writing in pairs and then, armed with new knowledge and ideas, returned to their paragraphs in a second power write.
During the Video
Students did a close reading of a complex text about rocks. They revisited the text four times to answer four different questions posed by Ms. Miles. Different styles of annotation helped students draw out important points, identify unknown and confusing words, note surprising content, and ask new questions. At the end of this lesson, students used the RAFT technique to write about what they had learned (Role=rock type, Audience=scientist, Format=letter, Topic=what makes me unique).
After the Video
This lesson led to student presentations and research posters about the location, formation, and past and present use of a rock type mentioned in the article. Following this lesson, Ms. Miles taught students about weathering, erosion, and deposition.
Ms. Miles prepared a list of possible questions to ask students during their close reading.
To participate in this lesson, students needed to understand the process of close reading and know how to annotate.
As Ms. Miles moved around the room to observe the notations that the students were making and to listen in to their conversations with partners, she asked questions and gave prompts to encourage deeper analysis by the students.
After each close reading, students discussed what they read in pairs and then as a full class. Ms. Miles encouraged students to ask each other questions about the reading and to use body language to show engagement and interest.
Resources and Tools
- Colored pencils (preferred over highlighter due to ease of writing)
- Language frames and sentence starters
- Document camera
- Rocks handout
Ms. Miles walked around the classroom, talking with students, observing, and recording their annotations to determine their level of understanding and whether modifications to the lesson were needed.
Throughout the lesson, students asked questions of their peer partners when they did not understand in order to deepen their comprehension. The process of close reading supported student self-assessment, as students identified what stood in the way of their own comprehension (e.g., language, the layout of the passage, or a science concept that was not familiar to them) and took steps to gain understanding.
The RAFT writing activity showed Ms. Miles what and how well students understood the content.
Impact of Assessment
Ms. Miles chose which questions to ask during the close reading based on what she was hearing from students in discussions and seeing in their annotations. Her recorded observations of students provided data that she used in the instruction that followed.
11.1 Reading and Writing in Science
Education experts Meena Balgopal, Jacob Foster, Maria Grant, and P. David Pearson address the key elements of disciplinary literacy in science education and discuss strategies for its integration into the classroom.