Science and Language Arts: A Perfect Pair

November 5th, 2014

In their new book Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2, authors Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley help teachers think about teaching life science in a whole new way by marrying fiction and nonfiction picture books. In this blog post the authors explain why it makes so much sense to combine language arts and science instruction and how their book can put ideas into action.

Perfect PairsScience and Language Arts: A Perfect Pair

According to a recent study, scientists spend 60–70 percent of their time reading, writing, and communicating. Literacy is an authentic part of science.
—Bill Badders, past president of the National Science Teachers Association

The secret is out: there’s a deep and critical connection between the process of doing science and what we generally think of as ELA skills. So doesn’t it make sense to combine science and language arts instruction? Not only is it effective, but it’s also a great way for time-strapped teachers to sneak science into their busy school-day schedule.

How can you put this idea into action? You can start with Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K–2. This resource includes twenty-two lessons built around award-winning picture books that you or your school library may already own.

Studies show that some children connect more strongly with nonfiction books whereas others gravitate toward fiction. Coauthor Nancy Chesley and I have paired thematically similar fiction and nonfiction children’s books and developed innovative activities that simultaneously teach age-appropriate science concepts and cultivate such ELA skills as identifying key details in a text, building content-area vocabulary, understanding the relationship between words and pictures, comparing texts, writing expository texts, and participating in shared research and writing projects.

For each lesson, we started by developing a Wonder Statement that incorporates a science concept typically taught in grades K–2. Examples include the following:

I wonder what plants and animals need to live and grow.
I wonder how animals protect themselves from predators.
I wonder how a rain forest is different from a desert.

After a fun, engaging introductory activity, teachers read the two featured books aloud and work with students to build data tables that organize information from the fiction and nonfiction texts. This part of the lesson models an important skill students will need later as they gather research for reports and extract information from reading passages to answer questions on assessment tests.

At key points in each lesson, students use pictures and words to record ideas and insights in Wonder Journals. Finally, they participate in a fun inquiry activity that helps them synthesize what they’ve learned.

The lesson about what plants and animals need to live and grow pairs two very popular books: The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer and From Seed to Pumpkin by Wendy Pfeffer. But there is plenty of room for flexibility. If these books aren’t easily available, you could substitute The Snail’s Spell by Joanne Ryder and Seed, Soil, Sun by Cris Peterson.

If you’d prefer to study animals and plants separately, you could pair The Snail’s Spell and Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah Campbell first, and then focus on Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole and Seed, Soil, Sun afterward.

It’s also easy to integrate your own creative ideas into our three-step investigative process:

  1. Engage students.
  2. Explore with students.
  3. Encourage students to draw conclusions.

For example, if you are pairing The Snail’s Spell and Wolfsnail, you could engage students by inviting them to pretend they are snails and act out how they think the animals get what they need to live and grow. If you decide to pair Jack’s Garden and Seed, Soil, Sun, the “engage” part of the lesson could involve a fun card-sorting game or perhaps a reader’s theater.

During the “explore” part of the lesson, the teacher mines the books’ content with her or his class and helps students organize the critical ideas in a meaningful way. Then to bring all of the ideas together and fully address the Wonder Statement, students may engage in paired, small-group, or whole-class discussions. To reinforce the thinking that that comes out of these conversations, we recommend a concluding activity. For example, students might write acrostic poems with the letters in the words water, sunlight, or food. Or they could form Sun, Water, and Food teams and name living things that need their team to survive.

While Perfect Pairs provides specific, detailed ideas and instructions for lessons that address the Next Generation Science Standards, teachers can easily use our investigative process model to design alternate lessons for teaching the concepts mandated by their state science frameworks. It’s a great way to bring science and ELA instruction together.

Entry Filed under: Content Areas

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rosemarie Wold  |  November 8th, 2014 at 8:48 am

    When do I find really good educational video’s for reading, math, oral language and/or written expression

    Thank you

  • 2. Deb Fisher  |  November 9th, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Hi. This book sounds excellent. Thank you. You mention above a study that shows scientists spend 60-70% of their time engaged in literacy, and attribute that to Bill Badders. Could you please provide more details about that study?
    Cheers Deb

  • 3. Glenda Funk  |  November 9th, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    i realize that “Perfect Pairs” is targeted to elementary teachers, but this post has inspired me to peruse the book at NCTE for senior project ideas. Maybe picture books will motivate 12th graders to dig into their childhood love of creepy crawly things as they conclude their march toward graduation. Also, those wonder statements sound like a great springboard for essential questions, again w/ senior projects in mind.

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