Incorporate Literacy In Science With Authentic Texts

We win any time we can incorporate literacy in science into our daily lessons and activities. One low-prep strategy that I love to use is to ask students to analyze authentic science texts… but let’s be real, those are HARD to understand. Luckily, there are several organizations who do the amazing work at adapting real science work to a student reading level.

What Is Literacy?

While literacy was once defined strictly as the ability to read and write, we now recognize literacy as the ability to engage in advanced reading, writing, listening, and speaking

At its core, literacy is just about communicating

Understandably, literacy therefore has a role in all disciplines.  We can see it included blatantly in the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices — “constructing explanations,” “engaging in argument from evidence,” and “obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.”

Yet it also plays a role in a number of other practices as well. Analyzing and Interpreting Data is a type of literacy, as is Developing and Using Models. And Planning and Carrying Out Investigations typically requires documentation of the planning process and the communication of results and conclusions.  Considering how very embedded this concept is in the discipline of science, it is not surprising that we truly should be investing time and energy into explicit instruction in literacy. 

If our goal is to develop our students into scientists, they must be scientifically literate.

But how can we do that?

Are you ready to really dig into incorporating science literacy into your science class? In my short workshop, Science Content Literacy, you’ll discover the basics of incorporating literacy on all levels (speaking and listening, formal and informal writing, and approaches to vocabulary instruction) into your three-dimensional, NGSS-aligned classroom. Find the workshop here.

One Strategy To Incorporate Literacy In Science Class

Of course, there are so many ways we can bring literacy in science into our classrooms (and a few ways not to do it!), but one of my favorite ways is super simple and ultra low-prep. All you need? An authentic science text + a short introduction to text annotations. That said, just because it is simple doesn’t mean it isn’t HARD.

Reading authentic science texts – plus actively engaging with them through annotations – is a high level skill. Plus, authentic science texts aren’t written for students! While there are times I have adapted science texts myself for my classroom, I don’t always have the time (or energy) to invest in that.

Interested in iExploreScience literacy materials that incorporate adapted scientific texts with practice-based questions? Check out the links below.

Exploring Vaccines As Synthetic Materials

Argumentation In Science Writing: Water Wars In The Mojave Desert

Understanding The Water Cycle As A (Disrupted) System

The Effects Of Changing Resource Availability

Human Impacts In Earth’s Biomes

Luckily, there are several organizations who do an amazing job at adapting real science work to our students’ reading levels. Honestly, they make it so much easier to incorporate nonfiction texts into our science classrooms.

Free Literacy In Science Resources

Frontiers For Young Minds

Frontiers For Young Minds adapts real articles written by scientists for student-use. The materials are reviewed by real young adults before publishing and cover a huge variety of topics — from “core concepts” that you will likely cover in your science scope and sequences to “new discoveries” that can spark curiosity or extend learning. At the end of most articles, you’ll see “Conflict Of Interest” statements, which offer great opportunities to discuss bias and the need to critically evaluate sources of information. Plus, the “Related Articles” section provides additional resources for students to pursue independent learning.

Science Journal For Kids And Teens

Science Journal For Kids And Teens has hundreds of science articles written by scientists and adapted for teens. The titles of these articles are posed as questions, which I love, and you can search by general discipline, NGSS standard, AP topics, the type of scientific figures included, you name it! These articles are all focused in cutting edge research and include a short, succinct abstract — which I’ve found helpful in not only choosing the article but also in adapting it for my students who most struggle with reading. (Instead of providing these students with the entire article to read, I’ve assigned only the abstract! They still get the core ideas and can engage in a discussion or answer reading questions, but I’ve reduced the cognitive demand for them by simply shortening it… without, you know, doing it myself.)

Lastly, I love that they include a Teacher’s Guide (yay!) and also several YouTube videos to spark student interest and/or extend learning. I’ve found my students appreciate the YouTube videos as a tool to first engage with the content — it seems to activate their prior knowledge while cultivating some curiosity, all before digging into what is for many of them a more difficult task (the actual reading).

Science News Explores

Science News Explores (formerly Science News For Students) was one of the first resources I discovered that made authentic science research and writing accessible for students. This site is a great first-stop for student research and independent learning on core science concepts — with their “Explainers” and “Word of the Week” articles.

“Analyze This” posts provide great opportunities to bring data and visualizations into your students’ learning via a real-world, relevant context, and I’ve found these materials make great emergency sub plans, extension activities for early finishers, post-exam tasks, or even “one-off filler day” assignments. (You know, when you aren’t quite ready to start your next topic or unit, or there’s just one day before a long break, so on.) You can even use them as an extended “bell ringer” task. The great thing is these articles already have the questions prepared so you literally just print (or link!) and go!

Data Nuggets

I love Data Nuggets for providing students opportunities to dig into scientific investigations and data. By examining, discussing, and evaluating the methods the scientists used, students can develop their Planning and Carrying Out Investigations skills without spending a ton of time actually doing an investigation. (And I don’t mean to sound like you shouldn’t do the hands-on experiments — but sometimes time or material constraints stand in the way, and these types of activities provide another chance to build the same skills in a different way!)

Plus, students then get a chance to actually analyze and interpret the data themselves — instead of just reading about what other scientists thought about it! Each activity is categorized by level (middle school, high school, and university level), but within each level, the tasks are further differentiated. This is clutch because you can assign the same investigation to all students but tailor the task to the skills of individual students — again, without doing much work yourself!

PLOSable Biology

I stumbled upon PLOSable Biology last year, and I really love the introductory “What’s In The Story?” section. It’s written in such a conversational tone that it truly is accessible for all students. While it doesn’t summarize the results (like in the Abstracts in Science Journal For Kids), it outlines the big question scientists were investigating and lays a foundation for the rationale for the research. I feel like it really connects to the, why is this important? argument we hear from students all the time! I also love the authentic data that is incorporated into the texts. While students may struggle to interpret these graphs and visualizations, I find it really valuable even to just expose students to materials that go beyond the simple line and bar graphs I remember from my K-12 education.

Lastly, and I admit I haven’t used this feature but it’s cool that it’s there, they have translated a lot of their articles into other languages!

And If These Sources Fall Short?

Sometimes, you still can’t find the article you need. When that happens, don’t be afraid to DIG IN to the real science research yourself. While you may not choose to assign your students an analysis of the full scientific text, there may be data tables or other sections that your students can still interact with and draw conclusions from — especially under your guidance and support!