Supporting ELA Common Core Standards in Science

The current transition towards the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has spurred a movement from assessing content knowledge to developing critical thinking and analytical skills amongst all students.  Currently all states except Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia have adopted the new rigorous standards with testing beginning in the 2014-2015 school year for most states.  The CCSS will standardize curriculum to the point that states can accurately compare results and students can accurately be compared to true national averages.  A majority of the states adopted these standards in 2010, and since then, teachers are writing new curriculum to bridge the transitional gap between the old and new standards.

The role out of the CCSS strictly features Math and English Language Arts (ELA).  According to the most recent PISA data, the United States ranks 24th in reading literacy and 35th in math literacy which clearly defines a need for education reform geared around those two subjects1 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013).  Incorporating both subjects in science is not fairly complicated, but we will focus on supporting the reading and writing portion of science which is commonly overshadowed by hand’s on activities.  In Focus: Evaluating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning, Mike Schmoker (2013) states that inquiry must be developed through authentic literacy, and that is how science teachers will support the CCSS in science classrooms everywhere.

Incorporate Ancillary Articles and Have Students Annotate

Science classes should regularly discuss current happenings in science.  Websites such as the Science Daily contain numerous amounts of informative articles that are short and can be incorporated into any lesson plan.  To support the CCSS and literacy development, students first need to annotate all readings.

The purpose for annotations is to help think about the reading as it is occurring.  Students should record questions, comments, or relationships in the margins of the text.  Relating new knowledge to current schema will allow the information to be retained effectively.  Annotations also record students thoughts at the time of reading that can be easily referred back to during discussions or completion of assignments.

How to Implement:  There are a variety of methods to introduce annotations into classrooms but the best method would be Madeline Hunter’s I do, We do, You do.  This ensures that all students have a common practice of annotations that will be easy to monitor and remediate if needed.

The link below provides a fantastic utility for teaching students to annotate.

Understanding How to Annotate

Affixes Development and Identification

Affixes include prefixes and suffixes which open a wide array of vocabulary for students.  Affixes can deepen the understanding of new terms (Marzano, 2010).  Delineating the parts of a word is extremely effective for science instruction.  Typically, prefix and suffix development in science may strictly relate to numerical measurements.  For instance, deci means one tenth, and kilo means one thousand; however, more effective affixes development will occur in words that can be used across a variety of curriculum.  The chart below explains.

Examples of Prefixes to   Incorporate in Science Curriculum





Co Together




Saturated Sat


Created using

 How to Implement:  Continuous incorporation of prefix and suffix identification will greatly increase the level of literacy in all classes.  This strategy can easily be injected into any lesson by simply using the vocabulary in any worksheet, lab procedure, or lecture, and distinguish the parts of the term.  Continually reinforce with daily reflection, or summative assessments.

Another method is to create a list of prefixes and suffixes prior to teaching a unit.  Choose four to focus on per week and then every Friday create a quiz that will assess the retention or application of the prefixes.

Overall, you can be creative on how you use assessment with
this strategy.

Reading for Meaning

Reading for Meaning is an activity described by Silver, Dewing, and Perini in The Core Six (2013).  It is a DOK two or three activity (depends on how you write the assignments and previous material covered) that asks students to use text to accept or reject statements presented.  This higher order thinking asks students to directly state their opinion, with students backing up their opinions with evidence from the text.  Depending on how the course is taught previously, Reading for Meaning will cause your students to struggle because it requires the students to think, not simply go through the motions of completing an assignment

How to implement:   This activity is similar to a KWL or SQ3R, with a bit of a unique twist.  Find an article related to a unit of instruction and create statements related to the content.  Vary the statements so that there is a mixture of true statements and false statements.  When students are done reading the article, have the students accept or reject the statements while supporting their claim with evidence from the text.  Below is an excerpt that has been used in a classroom.

 Increasing   the amount of pesticides to mitigate the bedbugs will be successful.





Created using the Text Why Bedbugs Wont Die by Rober Lee Hotz (2011).  It is a great article to use for teaching evolution.


Make Inferences:

When I was completing my undergrad, my faculty advisor clearly stated a need for teaching inferences in science.  Inferences are conclusions or opinions that are formed because of known facts and evidence (“Inference”, n.d.).   The Core Six again elaborates briefly on this matter, but science teachers must regularly incorporate inferences into daily lessons.

How to Implement:  Basic examples could begin with different climates.  Give statistical data over a biome (temperature, rainfall, etc) and have the students draw what type of animals may live there.  Assess students based on correct adaptations.  Yes, this is very simple, so let’s up the rigor.  While teaching evolution, students can analyze vestigial organs within a variety of animals.  Ask students to identify the vestigial organs, and predict their function.  The assignment below is a fantastic example of inferences.

Anatomical Evidence of Evolution

Socratic Seminars

Probably the oldest learning style in existence, Socratic Seminar is essential for reaching higher order thinking and probing ideas beyond what any pedagogy can offer.  Students are asked to think critically, and analyze other student’s perspectives, all while citing evidence from a text (or movie, lecture, whatever the chosen prompt may be).  Paul and Elder (2006) elaborates on the power of Socratic questioning, stating it asks students to deeply probe their own thinking, analyzing what they understand, and it teaches students how to construct and ask deep questions.  Essentially, this is a direct correlation to inquiry-based thinking that all teachers strive to incorporate and satisfies Schmoker’s claim to teach inquiry through literacy.

How to Implement:  Being scientist-minded, science teachers enjoy controlling many aspects to their classrooms, similar to variables in an experiment.  Socratic Seminar creates a dissonance with science teachers because that control must be relinquished.  Choose a text that the students will read.  Start small with a one day reading.  Model the Socratic Seminar process with students prior to conducting the seminar, and at the end, ask the students to evaluate the quality of the seminar.  Ask each student to reflect on how they did individually and how the group did as a whole.  Use the reflections for later seminars to enhance the quality of the discussion.  A key thing to remember is that Socratic Seminar is a learned process; this will take time to perfect.

Example video:  This video is an outline of the Socratic Seminar and how it is implemented into an English class.  Identify key points that can easily fit into your classroom.

The Socratic Seminar


The monstrous education reform through the CCSS creates a feeling of angst for science teachers.  Schools may begin to cut out strong portions of the science curriculum to support CCSS, but science curriculum and standards can mesh well together to improve overall student learning.

1 Study conducted was of 15-year-old students.  Here are links to the data: Reading Literacy, Math Literacy


Hotz, R. L. (2011, January 20). Why bedbugs won’t die. The Wall Street Journal, Retrieved from       

“Inference.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2013. <http://www.merriam->.

Marzano, R. (2010). Teaching basic and advanced vocabulary : a framework for direct instruction. Boston: Heinle ASCD.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2013). Selected findings from pisa 2012. Retrieved from

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common core state standards . Retrieved from

Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2006). The thinker’s guide to the art of Socratic questioning. Dillon Beach, Calif: Foundation for Critical Thinking (2013). English language roots. Retrieved from

Schmoker, M. (2011). Focus elevating the essentials to radically improve student learning. Alexandria, Va: ASCD.

Silver, H., Dewing, R., Perini, M. & Jacobs, H. (2012). The core six : essential strategies for achieving excellence with the common core. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


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