Genetically Modified Organisms: Are They Really As Bad as We Hear? (Day 1 of 2)

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Students will be able to participate in a close reading discussion of current scientific research and thought about the safety and benefits of genetically modified organisms.

Big Idea

Get your students ready for our upcoming organic chemistry unit food project with this teaser reading about genetically modified organisms!

Notes for the Teacher

I piloted this lesson last year as part of a school-wide commitment to exploring CCSS strategies with our students specifically related to close reading and evidence-based dialogue.  

I chose to work with this great editorial about genetically modified organisms from the Scientific American Food Issue that came out in August 2013.  It is topical, controversial, and generated so much student interest that it inspired a new, highly successful extended five day food project lesson during our organic chemistry unit that I will be working with again this year.  

I appreciated that there were many avenues of discussion with evidence open to the kids with this article.  It also allowed us to discuss the difference between opinion, research/opinion, and bias.  I also liked that this article really challenged our conventional wisdom about GMOs and led to a wonderful discussion about our responsibilities and rights as consumers and citizens.

National Geographic magazine has had a series of food articles over the past eight months and you can check out some of their online Future of Food series resources for other topics related to food that might be of interest to your students.  I think there are many other food related or other topics that could work here and would love to hear your ideas! 

The Classroom Flow: Introducing the Activity

15 minutes

1.  Ask students to discuss the following prompt with their lab group:

What do you know about GMOs?

What makes them controversial?

 2.  Using the spokesperson protocol, do a quick share out of ideas with the class.  

  • Note:  I tend to take some notes for myself as groups share out or write a quick summary on the board so that I can easily go back to these comments and ideas after the activity is over as a way of broadening the context and checking in for shifts in thought.  Which was I do this tends to be determined by the mood of the group--if they seem anxious to share ideas publicly or are eager to get to the activity, I won't put up the ideas on the board and will more casually/quickly write down phrases that will jog my memory later on.

 3.  Announce that today we will be learning a bit more about the feelings of the science community when it comes to GMOs.  

The Classroom Flow: Time to Read and Annotate

25 minutes

1.  Access the September 2013 Scientific American Editorial Board article entitled Labels for GMO Foods are a Bad Idea.  You can search for it on the Scientific American website, published by Scientific American, a division of Nature America, Inc. 

2.  Project the activity directions on the overhead screen and review them with the class.  

3.  Allow students time and a quiet space so that they can read, annotate, and reflect upon the short article.  I like to remind students that to annotate means to 

  • circle/underline/highlight important points
  • identify important vocabulary and/or words you don’t know
  • write down any summary notes, questions, or thoughts you had while reading it
  • For  a more in depth look at annotation strategies, check out this example resource
  • Check out this student work sample to see how one of my students chose to annotate the article

4.  For support, students have the option of reading on their own or with a partner.  For specific groups, we may read out loud together or the group may choose to lead that activity on their own without my facilitation.  Our classroom is large and has two side office spaces and an outdoor space with multiple benches to allow for this additional support. Depending upon your set up, you may want to move to the library or another space to allow for multiple student groupings and interventions. 

5.  To assist students with their annotations, I always have post it notes, highlighters, and other classroom supplies available for students to use.  I often put on classical music while they are reading and annotating and I allow students to work together, alone, or with me in various areas of the classroom as needed. 

The Classroom Flow: Self-Check for Understanding

10 minutes

1.  Pass out to students these text based prompts and reflection questions.

2.  Allow students additional time to answer them on their own.

3.  Announce that they will have the opportunity to discuss their answers with their lab groups tomorrow before moving on to our class discussion.  

  • Note:  The goal for today is for students to have a clear understanding of the article so that we can have a robust discussion tomorrow about GMOs, issues related to labeling, and a critical analysis of expertise vs. bias within the context of this editorial writing and reading. This is a juicy subject area that students have an interest in because they have heard about it in their home life.  In addition, the scientific community consensus does not match the public perception and discussion of GMOs in general.  This is a great topic for science related Common Core discussions and writing surrounding claims and evidence.   

On to Day 2!