Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Big Ideas in Literacy


Disciplinary literacy in science is challenging and highly rewarding. It involves more than what we traditionally think of as reading and writing, encompassing interpreting graphs, following evidence presented in a video, understanding how teams work, judging the quality of an online source of information, writing a blog or contributing to a shared digital document, and understanding the components of a formal research report. Helping your students gain science literacy skills opens a universe of discovery and hones habits of mind to serve them a lifetime, whether or not they choose a science-related career.

The goal of these units on disciplinary literacy in science is to sample some frameworks and strategies for developing science literacy. Students and instructors can benefit from an approach that combines literacy practices with discipline-specific content. The videos that accompany and complement these units show how practicing classroom teachers are taking a variety of creative approaches to disciplinary literacy through modeling, mentoring, group work, and iterative inquiry. Acquiring literacy is the key to student autonomy and self-directed learning. We hope that you will identify with these inspiring colleagues and students and see how engaging and rewarding it can be to combine literacy and content instruction.

Video and Reflection: Watch Teaching Content Through Literacy to see how an 8th grade science teacher has embraced literacy when teaching science content and has enjoyed collaborating with colleagues in language arts. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: Where do your students think the information in their science textbook comes from? What skills do you think students need to understand scientific content?
  • Watch the video: As you watch, consider how Ms. Gilbert helps students recognize various components of nonfiction text. What is the relative importance of graphics versus text in science?


Teaching Content Through Literacy

Lynn Gilbert helps students discern fiction from nonfiction text and to determine which is easier to read in the context of science literacy.

Teacher: Lynn Gilbert

School: Conrad Ball Middle School, Loveland, CO

Grade: 7

Discipline: Science

Lesson Topic: Using a graphic organizer to explore nonfiction text; the connection between photosynthesis and deforestation

Lesson Month: May

Number of Students: 32

  • Reflect: How similar to or different from your classroom teaching are the ideas in this video about teaching science content through literacy? How might you expand the ways in which you teach science content through literacy? How might you work with your colleagues in language arts and math?

In this introductory unit, we explore the most significant aspects of disciplinary literacy in science, informed by how practicing scientists read, write, and use inquiry constantly in their work. Unit 6 will focus on reading scientific content for the purpose of learning and inquiry and on strategies for developing reading skills in science. The focus of Unit 7 shifts to writing in science, which includes text and graphical means of conveying scientific findings and ideas. Unit 8 emphasizes how mutually supportive reading and writing are for developing literacy skills and the iterative interplay between reading and writing.