The Write for Life
Lesson 4 of 23
Objective: Students will be able to demonstrate their understanding of the characteristics of life in a writing assignment.
Ask students, “Does life exist everywhere? Why or why not?” Require that students are able to provide explanations for their answers because it fosters higher level thinking skills in students when they can explain the “why” behind a particular answer to a question.
This warm-up is a good review question that allows you to assess whether students have grasped the concepts presented in the previous lesson, Life is for the Living. Look for students to be able to make a connection between the characteristics of living things and the sustainability of life in particular environments based largely on the supply of energy (food), mates and (reproduction). Allow 2-4 students to respond. As always, encourage students to use academic discourse to guide their agreement or disagreement with other students.
Introduce New Material
First, share a few facts about the Marianas Trench. Ask students to silently reflect on whether or not life could survive in such harsh conditions. The objective for this part of the lesson is to allow students to critically think and consider the possibilities.
Inform students that they will have a chance to see the Marianas Trench for themselves, as we watch a video, Marianas Trench The Deepest spot on Earth. Show 15 minutes of the video.
Videos are a great tool for helping to establish a visual representation of information. It’s one thing to tell students that the Marianas Trench is a dark and harsh environment. It is entirely another to show students the Marianas Trench so that they are able to see the environment for themselves. The visual images presented in the video will aid students in the writing task that follows.
Before starting the video, instruct students to use the Cornell notes-taking format to write at least 10 bullet points while watching the video. These notes will be beneficial during the Independent Practice portion of the lesson. Inform students that the notes will be collected and graded.
I typically collect and grade this activity because some students lack the discipline to complete a task like this, unless it is perceived to have a direct and immediate impact on their grade. I collect most classroom tasks because of a common question, “Is this for a grade?” to which I answer, ‘Everything is for a grade”. Although I do not grade every assignment, it motivates a segment of my student population to believe that I do.
Share the two writing tasks options from which students can choose:
Option 1- Explain how scientists can determine if living organisms are present in the samples of sea water and/or sediment collected from the Marianas Trench.
Be sure to:
- Describe at least 3 characteristics common to all living things.
- Defend your choice of these 3 characteristics to determine if life is present.
- Describe a way to determine whether the sample exhibits the 3 characteristics you have chosen.
Option 2- Identify or invent an organism that can survive in the Marianas Trench.
Be sure to:
- Describe the organism.
- Identify the organism’s adaptations to carry out at least characteristics of living things.
- Classify your organism as unicellular or multicellular and defend your classification.
Provide copies of the rubric that will be used to evaluate students’ work. Explain each part of the rubric so that students will clearly understand what components constitute a well-developed writing assignment. Review the basic writing process as it relates to writing an outline, developing main ideas, complete sentences and correct punctuation. Encourage students to use the “be sure to include” points as the main ideas for the 2-3 paragraphs of their writing task. This will assist them in focusing their writing on specific points. Remind them that the notes from the video are a resource for them to reference in their work.
Finally, share an exemplar with students so that they will gain a sense of what a writing task that exhibits mastery of the concepts looks like.
Set the timer and allow students 10 minutes to write a rough draft/outline using the "Be sure to include" topics from the writing task as the paragraph opening statements. After 10 minutes, instruct students to exchange their rough drafts with their elbow partner.
Once the exchange has occurred, instruct students to take 10 minutes and use the rubric to provide written commentary (feedback) to their fellow student. Instruct students that the feedback must directly relate to the components indicated on the rubric. In order to quickly train students on how to provide written commentary, provide non-example and example peer commentary statements:
- Good job.
- I like that!
- Your response is too short. You didn’t put enough in it.
- Your use of the vocabulary shows you understand this concept.
- You used a lot of details. I count four different ways how scientists can identify if life in present.
Allow students to use the last 15 minutes to work on their final draft of the task, using the feedback from their elbow partner.
Allowing students to engage in peer commentary of one another’s work is a powerful tool for students. By allowing them to evaluate one another’s work with the sole purpose of helping a classmate improve his/her work before submitting it got a grade aids both the student providing the commentary and the student receiving the feedback.
The student acting as “editor” by providing commentary learns “by doing” what a complete response should include. The recipient of the peer feedback benefits by gaining an opportunity to modify the work if needed before submitting it for a grade.
This assignment ended up being finished at home because students needed more time to write a final draft than the class allowed. The student work that is attached reflects lfinal drafts of the assignment that were submitted after students took the rough drafts home to make revisions based on the feedback from their peers.
Instruct students to take a moment and reflect upon one strength of their work that they saw in the peer commentary. Encourage them to consider how to capitalize on that strength in order to apply it to the remaining work to be done on the assignment. Instruct students to complete the assignment at home, continuing to use the feedback from the peer commentary to guide their revisions.