Integrating Literacy Into the Science Classroom

I'm a science teacher. I'm a social studies instructor. I teach English.

As educators, we tend to think in terms of disciplines—but these distinctions only go so far. Skills overlap across disciplines, and cognitive processes are really pretty much the same across subjects.

My area of interest and specialty is English language arts. Here’s how the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)* foster an interdisciplinary kind of learning.

Citing evidence to support a claim is central to science, but it's also central to English language arts. And if you look at the wording in the standards—for example, in the Common Core English language arts standards or NGSS—you're going to see a huge overlap in standards

Common Core ELA standards are woven into the NGSS. If you think about NGSS as a tapestry, it would be made of five threads: science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, English language arts, and mathematics. The NGSS is designed to really have all of these kinds of skills, knowledge, and disciplines work together.

Most teachers are doing this already without even realizing it. In English class, students are being asked to read text closely and cite evidence in response to a question, or to support conclusions regarding an essay or a nonfiction article. Similarly, in science, students are asked to cite evidence to support a scientific claim. In both disciplines, students are asked to write. In science, they're writing in their evidence notebooks. In English, they may be writing in response to literature. Students in both areas are asked to make presentations and to do research. 

The NGSS really endeavors to embrace the deep integration of language skills in science learning. The goal of NGSS is to help students behave and think like scientists and engineers.

What Do Scientists and Engineers Do?

Scientists and engineers read scientific journals. They evaluate the data, the hypotheses, and the conclusion in the articles within these journals. They do research, often collaboratively, so they’re engaged in communication with their colleagues in doing research. They're creating graphs, charts, and other graphical devices to communicate their findings. And of course, they're writing—because who's writing the scientific articles but other scientists?

The NGSS endeavors to replicate what real scientists in the real world do and to lead students to participate in those very same activities—those very same endeavors. What are those activities? Much of the time, they're language-based, so your students will be immersed in language as they develop the science concepts.

Embracing Language Arts in NGSS-Based Curricula

In HMH Science Dimensions, we embrace the NGSS in its entirety, and as a result, language arts skills are very much part and parcel of the instructional design and the lessons themselves. Lessons include prompts for the teacher to engage students in summarizing, asking questions, responding to questions, working in pairs, and collaborating in small groups. This is very much part of the language arts element in the NGSS. 

In addition to that, specific features in the student-facing and teacher-facing materials focus in part on language. Of course, the guidance is different for first- and second-graders than it is for fifth- and sixth-graders, so it’s all calibrated according to student's age and knowledge base. But, the point is that at any point along in the program, students have access to this online handbook.

NGSS in the Classroom and Beyond

The NGSS has already correlated language arts skills to performance expectations. The role of the teacher is to guide students to use language arts skills to enhance their science learning. With the NGSS, we embrace an interdisciplinary approach to science learning, which really enables students to gain ownership of science concepts that stay with them for life.

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Marjorie Frank will host a webinar, “Integrating Literacy Into the Science Classroom,” on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018 at 7 p.m. ET. Register here to learn more about the connection between English language arts and the NGSS.

*Next Generation Science Standards and logo are registered trademarks of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards was involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.

This blog is based on a Professional Development video found within HMH Science Dimensions.