Monday, October 12, 2009

Teaching Science Through Literature

Let’s face it. Some elementary teachers don’t feel completely comfortable teaching science to their students.

Let’s face it. Many schools have scaled back on science education so they can devote more time to language arts and math, with the goal of improving student scores on assessment tests.

That means many elementary students are receiving limited science instruction, and that’s a shame. But there is a solution, a way to sneak science into your lesson plans. Teach science through literature.

Coupling inquiry-based science and language arts instruction allows educators to prepare students for the critical reading and open response portions of assessment tests without neglecting science education. It’s also a more comfortable approach for teachers who don’t feel adequately prepared to teach science concepts to their students.

I’ve talked about teaching science through literature before on this blog. Take a look here and here. Today I’m going to focus on a third technique for sneaking science into elementary classrooms. I call it Perfect Pairs—pairing fiction and nonfiction titles with a connection to the science topic you’d like to teach.

Different students enjoy different kinds of books and learn in different ways, so Perfect Pairs can be a great way to introduce and reinforce science concepts. Here’s a pair of books that is perfect for discussions of weather, habitats, or animal adaptations. One looks at how people sometimes react to rain and emphasizes cause and effect. The other shows young readers how a variety of animals behave during a rainstorm.

The Rain Came Down by David Shannon will brighten any dreary day. Rollicking text complimented by witty caricatures describes how a rainstorm sets off a chain reaction that catapults an entire neighborhood into a grumpy, quarreling uproar. But then, the rain stops. The air smells fresh and sweet and a rainbow appears. Suddenly, everyone’s mood improves. The neighbors help each other clean up the mess caused by the ruckus, and everyone goes about their daily business.

Using clear, simple language and gentle watercolor illustrations, When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart offers young readers a lyrical look at how animals living in forests, fields, wetlands, and deserts behave during a rainstorm. The book is sure to tap into your students’ natural curiosity about the natural world.

Discussion Questions
--Ask your students what the two books have in common. [They are about what happens when it rains.]
--How are they different? [One focuses on people living in a neighborhood. The other looks at animals living in a variety of natural habitats.]
--Discuss what makes one book fiction and one nonfiction.

Related Activities
Read students the following poem by Aileen Fisher:

How brave a ladybug must be.
Each drop of rain as big as she.
Can you imagine what you’d do,
if raindrops fell as big as you?

Ask students to write a story that answers the question in the poem.

Have your class to bring raingear to school and take them outside while it is raining. Ask students to use their five senses to observe the rain. They should consider these questions:

—How large are the drops?
—What sounds do the drops make?
—Does rain have a smell? (Rain can be polluted so children shouldn’t taste it.)
—How does rain feel?
—What happens to rain when it hits the pavement, the grass, or the school building?

Discuss the questions when you go back inside.

Do you know another great book that could be paired with the two I’ve discussed today? Can you think of other related activities for students? If so, please add a comment below. This blog is all about sharing ideas.


Rachel L. said...

I love your idea of constrasting fiction and nonfiction. I have two ideas for adding onto your lesson:

You could explore solids and liquids by talking about what happens to water when it freezes and when it becomes a vapor - could do demonstations on both and talk about hail, snow, frozen puddles and fog.

You could extend into art by having the children make rainsticks. The Enchanted Learning site has a good lesson plan for that.

Melissa Stewart said...

Those are great ideas Rachel. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Anonymous said...

Have you heard of Sylvan Dell Publishing? Our tagline is "science and math through literature," and our books come with built in educational activities in the For Creative Minds sections AND on the SD website. Come visit :)