As science teachers, we all want our students to become lifelong learners. We want our curriculum to give them a better understanding of what is going on in the real world. One way I have tried to accomplish these goals is through a variety of reading techniques. Teaching kids to read about science gives them a much needed skill they can use in the future.
But wait, this isn’t English class! How many science teachers (or math, or history, or anything other than English) have heard this from their students? Reading is not something that should be limited to one period a day. It certainly won’t be when they leave school! So here are three reading techniques that I use in my high school biology classroom to give students a better understanding of how science happens in real life. Once your students get used to them, the complaints will go away. Who knows, they might even enjoy your class more!
Technique #1 –Biology Reading Days
Preparation: I put together a list of books (both fiction and non-fiction) that have a strong tie to biology. I find a variety of topics at a range of difficulty levels. I also make sure that the books are available through our library system so that students can check them out.
Implementation: Once a week I give my students an entire class period to read their book. Students also have to complete a weekly reading slip to bring in some of the Common Core Standards. We also do group discussions towards the end of the semester. I love walking around the room and listening to my students have conversations about what they read!
Reading Recommendations: A few of our favorites from the list are “Peeps” by Scott Westerfield, “Your Inner Fish” by Neil Shubin, “Stiff: The Curious Life of Cadavers” by Mary Roach, and “Crashing Through” by Robert Kurson.
Technique #2 – Current Event Articles
Preparation: There are tons of great news articles out there. One of my favorite sources is the New York Times science section (if you haven’t checked it out yet, GO NOW… then come back to this blog, of course). I assign articles from there at least once a week.
Implementation: I have my students turn the article in with the important information highlighted and they write a one paragraph response (what they thought about what they read- NO summaries allowed). This shows them real world examples of what we are learning about in class.
- Here are some great articles from the LifeSciTRC: When Good Bacteria Turn Bad, Cloning: Past, Present, and the Exciting Future, Always Your Mother’s Child
Technique #3 -Collaborative Reading
Preparation: One thing that always bothers me is that when I give my students questions to answer, they just skim through to find the answers instead of actually reading. I also find that they have trouble listening (which I’m sure is shocking). So here’s my solution: I take an article and spilt it into two parts, going paragraph by paragraph.
Implementation: The students take turns reading and have to answer questions about the sections that their partner reads. This means they have to LISTEN! Let me be honest, they hate this at first (“why can’t I just read the whole thing myself?”). But if they’re struggling, it means they have to actually apply themselves and WORK! It’s worth the time and effort it takes to plan it out.
Hopefully these ideas are useful for your classes. What techniques do you apply to improving science literacy?
Aubrey Mikos is a LifeSciTRC Community Member, Scholar, and Fellow. She teaches Biology and Anatomy and Physiology at Serena High School in Serena, IL.