For the opening part of this lesson, I briefly talk to students about how writing for science needs to be specific, concise, and on-topic. We will sometimes put our opinions into the science lessons but the opinions are NOT science.
The prompt students will be responding to is: What is a scientist? or What do scientists do?
I use this Writing Sample Grammar Analysis Checklist to get baseline data about their grammar skills. I use it primarily for anecdotal notes, and also sometimes insert screenshots of a passage if I haven't saved the entire passage itself.
I give students the freedom to approach this any way they wish, and I take anecdotal notes on their prewriting skills. They may draw first and then write, they can brainstorm using a web or a list, or if they want to, they can just start. I explain that this writing sample will provide me with information about their strengths and areas for improvement in writing as well as their background knowledge and interests related to science. There are no wrong answers. I then go over procedures for quiet work times and provide students with alternative seats if necessary, and cardboard partitions. If they need help spelling a very specific word I encourage them to sound it out. I walk around the room and confer with them as needed, but my main role in this task is to support them in working through this task independently. It's the best way for me to obtain accurate baseline information, and it also sets the tone and lets them know that we will be writing a lot in science.
This is how the grammar analysis checklist is set up. I do not fill in all the categories, of course, but check off what is observable in this initial writing sample. There are two pages; this is just the beginning of the document.
After they finish writing, I called students to the carpet and let volunteers share what they wrote. As I did this on the very first day of school, I wasn't yet randomly calling on students. I like to give them several days to adjust to that idea.
Here is one student whose definition was brief but expressed the some of his core beliefs about science. He said that scientists are people who like to make stuff and investigate stuff.
This student expresses the idea that scientists use tools, and this student demonstrates his background knowledge in an example of how, after research, a scientist is able to confirm a conclusion. This student was one of many who said that the important part of it is the question..
I would like to thank their teacher from last year, Mrs. Edith Corrales-Meza! They clearly came from a classroom full of rich science discussions!