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ELA Standards and Science Literacy in K-5

6 year old reading All in a Rainforest Day
ELA Standards and Science Literacy in K-5
“I think the world needs scientifically literate individuals who can cast educated votes on issues like global climate change, ocean acidification and automobile efficiency,” says Maria Grant, Professor, Secondary Education at California State University, Fullerton. “We need individuals who will support and can design solutions to these problems – a citizen science coalition,” she says.

Our planet’s environmental issues are one good reason educators are incorporating ELA standards into their science instruction, and there are others: An emphasis on scientific literacy helps educators align science instruction with the Common Core State Standards for English language arts/literacy and the Next Generation Science Standards in a natural, cohesive manner. And the standards teach science students how to read complex texts independently and to write and speak about them.
Connecting Science and English Language Arts

Plus, according to Grant, plenty of research in the past decade has shown the educational importance of developing disciplinary literacy, the unique reading, writing, listening and speaking strategies needed to understand and use content within a discipline. Like every other subject, science has its own particular literacy needs.

Developing the skills to meet these needs supports other educational goals as well by providing a foundation for critically analyzing problems. These problem-solving skills can help students have more confidence in independently pursuing answers to their own questions and are key in preparing them to achieve in college, work, and life.
Cultivating Scientific Thinking in Young Students

For K-5 students, simpler problems are discussed but the same critical thinking “muscle” can be exercised and strengthened. “With some guidance, elementary students can begin to learn how to critique a claim. They can look at claims and counter claims, assess contradicting evidence and critically review different sides of an argument,” Grant says. “You want to teach them to dig deep and to look carefully at research. You’re helping them learn how to figure out what they think, based on evidence.”
How to Teach Students to Think Like Scientists
A foundational skill in science literacy is close reading. Students need encouragement, patience and practice to develop those skills, which are crucial in understanding and retaining science content. Grant guides students through a process of reading, re-reading and sometimes re-reading again to teach them how to stick with dense, challenging material. Using a text on a tadpole changing to a frog as an example, she says, “The first time, we just read the text,” she says. “I ask students to annotate, to make notes in the margin of the document about what they’re thinking. Then I ask questions that drive them back to the text, for example, ‘How does the author help you understand how the tadpole changes?’” The third step is to have students work in pairs. “I have them ‘partner talk.’ They discuss with each other their responses to that question. Maybe one says, ‘I saw that the tadpole began to grow legs,’ and her partner can explain what he saw,” she says. If the text is particularly complex, Grant might ask another question that drives them even deeper and helps them further develop that practice. This process – reading, annotating, fielding text-dependent questions, going back to the text and then discussing with a partner – supports different learning styles, while also giving students practice in reading, writing, speaking, and listening about what they’re learning, four requirements the standards specify for literacy.
Cultivating Our Next Generation of Problem-Solvers

By laying the foundation elementary students need to begin making informed, data-driven decisions educators can spark conversations that make science germane to their students. Elevating the discussion from one of abstract theory gives students context and helps them see their place in the larger picture. As they develop the ability to think critically about relevant issues, they are more likely to be attentive, involved members of the science classroom.
Some Resources that May Be Helpful
See this article on the EdTechLens blog to find out how Grant uses sentence frames to help elementary students learn how to speak like scientists. Also, Grant wrote an article on Teaching Science Literacy for ASCD. You may also be interested in the information on text-dependent questions available on, which offers resources and examples, each pegged to the Common Core standard they support.

The Literacy Design Collaborative has templates for creating teaching modules, and see their list of existing modules some of which have been juried and peer reviewed, and are also organized by Common Core standard.

About Maria C. Grant: A professor in secondary education at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), Grant teaches courses in the credential program there and works to support collaborations among educators in both formal and informal science education institutions. She conducts professional development workshops, institutes, and webinars for educators across the country on various topics, including the Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core- ELA, formative assessment, and disciplinary literacy. She has authored numerous publications on science literacy, formative assessment, and reading in the content areas, including articles in Educational Leadership and the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. Additionally, she is coauthor of the books Reading and Writing in Science: Tools to Develop Disciplinary Literacy (Corwin, 2015) and Teaching Students to Think Like Scientists K-5 (Solution Tree, 2013), both written with Douglas Fisher and Diane Lapp. Her newest publication is A Close Look at Close Reading: Teaching Students to Analyze Complex Texts, Grades K–5 (ASCD, 2015).
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