Magnetism and Complex Text

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Students will develop skills to engage in complex text, and will be able to explain that magnetism is a physical property that is observable at the macroscale, but has its roots in nanoscale properties.

Big Idea

Magnetism is a physical property that can be used to study how something is made.


As part of the Deeper Learning Network, our Expeditionary Learning School is very concerned about the 2006 ACT study, Reading Between the Lines. This study found that facility with reading complex text is what distinguishes students who are college and career ready from those who are not. For this reason, I frequently give students text that I struggle with as a reader, and I teach skills and perspectives that increase their facility with reading complex text. 

No prior knowledge is necessary, but students will probably be familiar with magnets, and will get back in touch with the fun of magnets at the beginning of the lesson before turning to the complex text.

This lesson pertains to HS-PS1-1 by helping students to think about atomic structure. It also pertains to the NGSS Crosscutting theme of Structure and Function; magnets behave the way they do because of their structure.

Do Now and Activator

10 minutes

Do Now: I ask students to preview the article called Magnetism. I explain that the article is complicated, and that many adults in the school would be challenged by it. I note that we will spend some time with the text in class, but for now, in their notebooks, they should record what they think the article is about in a Magnetism graphic organizer, and include any details that help to understand the topic. Students work alone for about 5 minutes.

Activator: For five minutes I let students play with some magnets and paperclips, and at the end of the time period students  share some observations. They may notes attraction and repulsion, and that the magnet can pull iron filings toward it even when it is not touching them.

Mini-lesson and Guided Practice

15 minutes

I first will name one of the biggest challenges to growing as a reader, namely that people often shut down when confronted by topics that seem to complicated. The most important thing to realize is that reading is more than just lifting the words off of a page; reading is about making meaning of those words.

I note that today we will name some of the practices that successful readers do as we learn about one of the properties that forensic scientists have in their tool box for analyzing unknown materials.

I ask students to turn and talk with a partner about what the article was about for 1-2 minutes, and then I ask for some volunteers to give us some facts. I record these facts on the board.

I show a picture of a Helium atom for students who are not aware of its basic composition, and highlight the nucleus and the electrons. I show the picture of domains, knowing that if students have some schema going into the article that it will be more accessible to them, but I do not want to overwhelm them with too much vocabulary. I also note that a force is a push or a pull.

I ask students to name some strategies that they use when it is time to read the article. I record these strategies on the board. Here is a student-generated list of what to do with complex text.

After listing these, I explain that one of the most important reading strategies is just to know why you are reading. For this article, I tell them that I have made a Magnetism reading with purpose organizer so that they can record their findings in a table.

Students will read in pairs using the Say something protocol. This protocol allows students to socially construct meaning about the complex text together after they have had a chance to read a section. I ask students to read Sections 1, 2 (but not 2.1), 3.1, 3.2, 3.3.1, and 3.3.2, and to stop in after each section and discuss these questions: What did the section mean? Did it help to answer any of the reading prompts? If so, discuss and record your answers.


25 minutes

Students work in pairs and take turns reading each section, discussing it, and recording relevant notes. In the Magnetism Say Something video I model what a good student contribution could look like during the discussion section of the protocol.

Once most students have finished reading the relevant parts of the article, I instruct the class to work in groups of 2-3 pairs to share what they have learned. When sharing an answer, the students must reference the part of the article they are using as evidence. I also instruct them to record any questions they have. These could be disagreements about the text, or other questions that the article raises.

Once students have had a chance to discuss the article together, I ask for volunteers to offer perspectives to the whole class about what was learned and project the Magnetism reading with purpose organizer answer key.


10 minutes

During this time students will discuss the following:

How well does the class seem to understand how a forensic scientist could exploit ferromagnetism?

How well does the class seem to understand how magnetism works?

How did the protocol work for you? What skills or attitudes did you learn today about reading complex text?

I will then ask for a Magnetism Exit Ticket from each student.