Teaching Tuesday: Literacy in Science Classroom Instruction

Dr. Tracy Vasquez and Dr. Alicia Kozimar, faculty

Female STEM teacher working with young students in science classroom

As educators, we know how important it is to incorporate literacy skills and academic language in various content areas. Science is a subject area in which students may need scaffolding in order to read, write, listen and speak to engage with the content instruction. You may be wondering; how can I help students with literacy during science instruction? Let’s explore some strategies: selecting the right text, pre-teaching vocabulary, supporting the text with multimodal tools and asking questions at a variety of depths.

Selecting the Right Text

After identifying the science content standards you will be teaching, you will want to start exploring different text options that relate to the content. These could be magazines, internet sources, books or even the science textbook for your grade level. You should read the selection carefully and determine if your whole class, groups of students or individual students could have difficulties with the selection. Based on the difficulties you have identified, that will serve as a starting place for implementing your scaffolding. Since your students will have a variety of reading levels and abilities, you will want to make sure students will be able to understand the text with the supports you provide. For example, you can preview the reading with your students and show them associated pictures. Then ask questions to promote a discussion that will engage the students by applying their related background knowledge.

Pre-teaching Vocabulary

Along with previewing text, another scaffolding strategy that can be implemented to support literacy development with your students is direct support for vocabulary terms. You should identify academic vocabulary used that is necessary for students to comprehend the text, such as context specific discourse or terminology. You can teach vocabulary and provide listening and speaking opportunities through discussion prior to reading the text. Pre-teaching vocabulary allows for familiarity and for students to be less intimidated. Students may also be excited to find the vocabulary words that they just learned in the text as they read. This literacy confidence can build momentum for learning the content and keep students engaged throughout the lesson.

Supporting the Text With Multimodal Tools

Each student in your class will learn differently, so incorporating multimodal tools can engage and support conceptual understandings. These can be used before, during, and after the lesson to help students understand the concepts, and to apply the content to their community and global contexts. For example, when learning about rainfall, students in certain parts of the country could have local structures that have shifted or been compromised by mudslides. A picture or video clip of a local mudslide could help them visualize the process they are reading about. Students who live in areas that don’t have a lot of rainfall could also benefit from the visual because they may have never seen damage of that severity due to rainfall in their communities.

Asking Questions at a Variety of Depths

Before, during or after reading the selected text, you can support students with science content comprehension by engaging them with carefully posed questions. Asking questions at lower levels of Depth of Knowledge (DOK) supports basic comprehension and recall. This allows students who struggle with comprehension to verify they are accurately understanding the text before moving on to questions that may involve further critical thinking skills. DOK levels 2 through 4 support students in application of the content and extending their thinking. Questions utilizing these thinking skills will help them to make connections, solve problems and communicate scientific content with peers. As the teacher, you can use questioning to further elicit curiosity and help your students understand the content more deeply.

Science content in the real world is only valuable if it can be communicated and comprehended. Through the teaching of science content through literacy, teachers model the importance of scientific thought, inquiry and communication. Beyond this, they are empowering students to use literacy to unlock science information and further learning opportunities for students beyond their classroom walls.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.