How do scientists communicate their work through writing?

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SWBAT strengthen their Science Journal writing with guidance from the teacher and peers.

Big Idea

What do scientists do? How do they write to communicate what they observed? Today we'll practice observing, writing, and reflecting on ways to strengthen our scientific writing.

Instructional Notes

In the previous 2 lessons, students had a photograph of an animal that I provided.  They labeled the external parts, and then circled one part that helped the animal meet a specific survival need.  Today, we need to talk about how to observe and record an animal when the animal is right there in front of you!  In other words, scientists collect animal specimens and observe them.  How can we draw and write to communicate our observations?

Today, I provide models or specimens of animals and students practice drawing them accurately (well, as accurate as 6 year-olds get!).  I have a bunch of animal specimens from teacher supply stores, and I also have a ton of plastic ants.  If you don't have actual preserved animals, don't worry!  Fairly accurate plastic models of animals or dinosaurs will work too.

Lakeshore Learning animal specimens

Students also examine each others' work and see what strategies friends used when they were recording.  Finally, students have a chance to go back to their own work in order to incorporate friends' strategies.  This is important because the more often students use strategies, the sooner they will "own" them and use them naturally.

To give more time for reflection, the exploration today is a bit shorter to give more time to the closing!

Why is student reflection so important?  I am a big believer in the need for students to develop into reflective life-long learners.  I want to guide them to evaluate their work and to know if they are successful.  Even your most advanced writers can learn from others, as they see something they haven't thought of in quite the same way!  In this way, we are truly establishing a classroom of 25 learners, 25 teachers (me included in both categories!).


5 minutes

Today, I go back to an Anchor Chart we are creating as a class about strategies we can use in our Science Journals to communicate our observations to others.  This checklist aligns to Science Practice #8, because it is a way to help students better communicate through recording.  To start out, I review some of the strategies we have come up with so far, like draw what you see, write words, labels, use *accurate* colors, and sort items into categories.

Then, I set the purpose for learning by explaining the objective:

Today we are going to strengthen, or make our writing better, by using our communication strategies.  I made you a checklist of the strategies.  As you work, monitor your writing and drawing.  If you use one of our strategies, put a check mark next to it on the checklist.  I'll also be walking around looking for new strategies, and I'll be asking those friends to share.

This checklist, or rubric, will help students self-monitor whether or not they are using the communication strategies.  It also helps them incorporate strategies that they haven't tried before, as they love checking off each smiley face! I used a photograph of our Anchor Chart for the rubric.


15 minutes

First, I explain the day's exploration:

Today I am going to put animals on every table.  (Gasps, ooh's and ahh's)  It will be your job to record in your Science Journal in a way that other friends will know exactly what you observed when you looked closely.  I want you to check your work and be thinking as you go about what strategies you can use to make your work even better.  You'll have ten minutes, which is a good, long time.  

While students are working, I circulate to see if students are checking their work or if they are using new strategies too.  I also check-in with struggling learners/writers to guide them to appropriate strategies.  Lastly, I check to make sure that no one draws a smiley face on the animals... they must be recording what they actually see!

Warning: your classroom might be loud!  I promise, though, that it's an excited and engaged kind of loud.  I mean, the 6-year-old-me would have to call out, "Wow! A butterfly!" or "Eek! A spider!" too!

I give my students at least 10-15 minutes of exploration and recording with the animal models.  It is vital with the NGSS standards that students aren't only being fed content; rather, the scientific practices are just as important as the content!  So, students themselves need time to actually be observing and communicating!  

Once the time is up, I play a transition song.  Students will put all specimens and animal models into bins on my Science Center table, and I ask them to bring their Science Journals and pencils to the rug.

The video clips with this lesson help you know how to support students as they work. 

Video #1 Here I help a student evaluate herself as she uses the rubric.

Video #2  Here a student drew pictures as the only communication strategy. I helped the student focus on the rubric to choose another way to communicate.

Video clip 3  Here I help a student with accuracy.  There are no smiley faces on spiders! :)  She also has a strange number of legs for her spider, which didn't seem to phase her.  Later, we will correct her misinformation with a diagram showing pedipalps.



10 minutes

What we recorded today is not really as important to me as how we recorded.  I ask students if the rubric helped them.  Then, I follow-up with:

How did checking the communication strategies help you?  Or, why did you check the communication strategies?

In this video clip, you can hear some student responses!

Next, I called a student forward to share a new idea and strategy.  The rest of my friends have brought their pencils, so if they hear or see a good strategy, I want them to apply it right away in their own work.  

Today, Akirah's drawing didn't just have a label.  Actually, she drew a whole diagram of the spider!  Let's look at her work.  See how she labeled the legs, head, and body?  Let's add "diagram" to our Communication Strategies Anchor Chart.  Would you like to add diagrams to your work?  Go ahead and pick one animal you recorded and turn your drawing into a diagram now.

Lastly, I want to point out the area I'd most like students to work on-- writing words to tell more, or writing descriptions.  During a previous lesson, I realized that I should give students a reference list with words to help get them started.  I asked if any students had used the list, which is glued in their science journal.  I bring forward a journal with good descriptions of a starfish.

Look how Gracelyn used words to tell more about her starfish, including that it has little holes all over, it is yellow and hard.  Gracelyn is "telling more."  Let's read the list of descriptive words in our journal again.  Did any of those words fit your animal?  If so, go ahead and copy it now.

I close the lesson by stating that scientists learn from each other and make their work better by evaluating it as they go, just like we did today (this is straight from Science Practice #8!).  


Student Science Journals today will give great formative assessment.  By this time, I also expect some improvement from the first day of the unit.  Here's the criteria I look for:

  • Was the student able to accurately draw/trace from an animal specimen and label or describe external features?