Three Easy Ways To Support NGSS-Aligned Literacy

Developing students scientific literacy is an important component of the NGSS Science Standards. While this can feel like “one more thing,” here are a few quick and easy ways to incorporate literacy into your NGSS-aligned science classroom.

In Three Myths About Scientific Literacy, I debunked a few myths about literacy instruction in science. Now that we’re on board to bring literacy into our NGSS-aligned classrooms, let’s dig into a few practical ways to support the development of our students’ literacy skills while building understanding of science concepts and mastery of the practices.

Remember, literacy supports science learning in our classrooms.

But before we get into that, let’s do a quick review:

  • Literacy is more than just writing.
  • There’s digital literacy (using tech), data literacy (understanding data), visual literacy (infographics and photos and videos), media literacy (communication in all sorts of formats), and news literacy (reading between the lines to not only find and understand but consider and evaluate)!
  • Oh, and there’s verbal communication — speaking, discussion, so on and so forth.

With that in mind, the following tasks include not only “traditional” reading and writing but also these other literacies we can incorporate into our classroom!

NGSS-Aligned Literacy Strategies

Aha! Pages

I love interactive science notebooks (read all about those here!), but I’m not really big on all the cutting and pasting. For me, an interactive notebook is simply a notebook in which the students are making-meaning.  This means asking questions, drawing conclusions, and making connections. 

For that reason, I love using an Aha! Page in student notebooks to provide a one-stop-shop for this meaning-making on a larger scale.  

My students’ Aha! Pages always start with a phenomenon. Students are asked to record their observations, develop questions, and maybe informally hypothesize about the how or why

Then, as students work through our unit activities, they return to this page to record their new understandings.  More than that, though, they tie those understandings back to the initial phenomena.  It creates not only a log of learning but also builds students’ capacity to make real-world connections.

Action Step: Wrap up each lesson by giving students 5 minutes to log what they learned on their Aha! Page.

It’s low-risk writing, and it builds their scientific understanding.

Question Models and Stems

Typically, when we engage students with texts, we ask the questions.

They read, we ask, they answer. 

This activity certainly isn’t without value, especially if we are asking good questions.  But it can get old. 

A twist on this is asking students to develop questions from a written text.  While these can be questions the text addresses, I would encourage students to ask questions that the text does not answer.

That said, many of our students are uncomfortable in this role. So much of K-12 education has been teacher-directed, in terms of what to think and what to learn, that they are simply lacking in the curiosity that questioning requires.  But like any skill, questioning can absolutely be taught and developed.

Question models and question stems are a great way to do this. 

To help get you started, I’ve created a set of Questioning For Learning cards.  These cards can be paired with a variety of texts, data sets, or graphics, and each “category” supports a different approach to questioning – from questioning to help clarify to questioning to challenge ideas. The goal is for students to take the question model or question stem and tailor it to the phenomenon you’ve provided. 

And depending on the format of that phenomenon, students will be practicing different literacy skills — data literacy, visual literacy, media literacy, or traditional text interactions. Lastly, as students become more familiar with generating their own questions, models and stems as scaffolds become less necessary. They’ll become proficient at developing their own questions — and that’s a skill transferable to so many “real-life” moments.

You can grab my Questioning For Learning cards right here. (Note: The ZIP file is housed on Dropbox, but you don’t need a Dropbox account yourself to download!)

Sprinkle in a question or two here or there for a quick five minute activity, or spend some time explicitly teaching questioning the next time you engage students with a new phenomenon. It’s up to you!

Text Structure Analysis

The next time you use a scientific text in your classroom, focus your students’ attention on the structure. 

We often ask our students to use the C-E-R (Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning) structure in their own writing, but we don’t always provide them adequate models to understand what that format really looks like

While textbooks aren’t ideal for this activity, choosing an article from an authentic science publication adapted for student use (see my faves here!) works wonderfully!  While reading the text together, guide students to identify the claims presented, the evidence given to support those claims, and the reasoning provided that ties it all together.  Analyze where each of these components can be found and take it a step further to discuss the success of the author in supporting his or her claims.

I’ll admit, the activity I’ve just described takes more than five minutes.  But if you are already planning to have students read a text, adding in a short discussion of text structure doesn’t necessarily add significant time.  Plus, the more frequently you do it, the better your students will get at identifying these components in written texts… and then using these components in their own writing.

Incorporating literacy in your NGSS-aligned classroom isn’t an extra…

Literacy is a part of science, but I understand the time crunch often leaves us feeling like it’s an extra.  I encourage you to consider how you might use the strategies above and try to remember that you can develop student literacies while still building and reinforcing scientific knowledge. 

More Literacy Strategies For NGSS-Aligned Classrooms

Three Myths About Scientific Literacy

Incorporating Literacy In Discovery Based Learning

Incorporate Literacy In Science With Authentic Texts

Developing Data Literacy In The NGSS Classroom

Using Claim Evidence Reasoning To Engage Students In Argumentation