What are the Effects of Oil Spills?

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SWBAT understand how oil spills create environmental issues.

Big Idea

How do contemporary events impact our energy choices? With the use of two reading pieces, students examine the effects of an oil spill.

Read This First

5 minutes

Science literacy has become increasingly important as authentic resources are available on the internet. Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards work well together as students express themselves in informational writing. This lesson uses two resources to answer the question, "How does the US need for oil harm the environment? What can Americans do to use less oil? What can you do?"

Science literacy is vastly different than fiction reading and writing. Regardless of the resource, an important strategy is to offer the students the opportunity to read or watch a source more than once. In the Engage section the students watch a movie and reflect on what they feel is important. Reflections are an important way for me to understand what the students are understanding. In addition to building background information, I can tailor my teaching to their learning needs.

In the Explore section students watch the movie again for a different purpose.  My strategy is to offer the students a two column notes strategy to organize information according to learning criteria. This strategy allows students to connect with the movie emotionally the first time. The second time, they consider the important information in the movie.  

In the Explain section I use NOAA's reporting of the twenty-five year outcomes of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. This authentic technical report is difficult to read for the students. Refer to my lesson Reading a Technical Report  to check out how I teach students how to read technical writing. 

I evaluate the learning using a summary writing strategy in the Evaluate section. When I do the lesson again, I'll be sure to allow the students the opportunity to collaborate to improve their summaries. Many forgot evidence from the sources and quotes. By allowing them to collaborate, they are given the opportunity to double check one another's work. 



10 minutes

Students have been taught my Climate Change Lesson and can explain how burning fossil fuels contribute to climate change. I explain that climate change is a one of the problems of using oil. I ask, "Has anyone heard of the Gulf Oil Spill or the BP Oil Spill?" Some students have heard about it. I ask, "Why are there oil spills? What effect do they have on the environment?" 

I explain that the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill occurred 26 years ago.  Scientists have been studying the effects since the day it happened and have written a technical report to explain how the Prince William Sound ecosystem is surviving. I introduce a movie from the History Channel: Exxon Valdez. My strategy is to offer the students background information on an event that occurred before they were born. My intention is to connect emotional learning (animals are injured in oil spills) with larger catastrophic events. 

Students watch the movie looking for vocabulary words and getting the general idea of the movie. After the first time through I ask the students to fill in three sentence starters.

  1. The most important information is….
  2. I was surprised by….
  3. I learned…

My strategy is to teach unknown words in an effort to promote understanding. In addition, I want the students to write down their first impressions of the movie. It is a very emotional movie and students want to share their feelings.



20 minutes

To explore the content further,  students watch the video again annotating. I use Two Column notetaking because I want them to write down information and I want them to explain why the information is important in making energy decisions.  The big idea is, "How do energy choices impact the environment?" My students are not good at multi-tasking so I will stop the movie at key times to help support the annotation process.

Students respond to the movie in two-column notes. The columns include:

Important Information     Energy Decisions

Students fill in the first column only during the movie and then the second column after the movie.  

RST.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.


20 minutes

I introduce sections of the report: Exxon Valdez: 25 Years After. This is a technical science report and the reading is difficult. I use it because the concluding statements are succinct and understandable for my students. We muddle though the "in spite of a steady progression of originally injured" and read "Is Prince William Sound recovered....the simple answer is no." I pick and choose the pages based upon the information. I start with the Preface so students can get feel for the writing of a technical report.

I ask, "How does this sound different from a story?" My strategy is to discuss how the writing can offer a difference experience. The movie below shows how the students talk about the difference between a technical report and other reading. You'll notice how the students remark about the charts, graphs, and facts. 

"What do you expect to see in the report?" I ask this question to generate ideas about charts, graphs, and statistics. 

"What do you think will be difficult about this article?" I am warning students that is will be hard but I am also easing some of the personal agony associated with being assigned something you don't understand. 

I then focus on page 7-10. 

My strategy is Read through Once, Dig for Vocabulary, Read a Second time. Students have background information from the movie. 

I ask students to draw a line on their two-column notes to distinguish between the information on the movie and the information in the article.

To support my students in technical reading I have several strategies. In some groups I jigsaw parts of the report. In other groups I do a partner read. Because it is so difficult, I do not ask the students to read the report independently. 

I ask students to highlight words they do not know and I add them to my word wall. We discuss the words as a class.

To support my students in reading technical reports, I ask them to annotate the report. The annotations include three notes. I allow the student to use hashtags as annotations. If the technical reports positive impacts on animals, students use #+. If it reports negative impacts on animals students use #-. If they have a question, they place in question marks.



I also like to use the strategy of Student Led learning. In the annotations during reading, I ask students to indicate interesting or important information with a series of !!!!!. I am promoting a personal connection to the information by allowing students the opportunity to tell me what they think is important or interesting. 

My strategy is to have the students compare and contrast the History channel reporting of the event using the technical report: Exxon Valdez: 25 Years After

RST.6-8.9 Compare and contrast the information gained from video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.


5 minutes

To evaluate student learning (and the lesson), I use a summary writing strategy. I ask the students the following questions.

"How does the US need for oil harm the environment? What can Americans do to use less oil? What can you do?"

The two-column notes strategy works well with the summary writing. Students have evidence from two sources. I evaluate their learning with a 5-7 sentence summary. I keep the summary short for two important reasons. I don't want the students to use all of the information the two-column notes. I want them to choose the most important information for their summary. I also keep it short because brevity in scientific writing is an important skill. I tell them to choose statistics first because numbers have power in writing. By alerting the students to shorter writing and using statistics, my strategy is to teach them how to scientifically write. 

In the movie I show three samples of student writing and I discuss how I evaluated the writing. 



RST.6-8.7 Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table.

RST.6-8.8 Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.