By Christine Anne Royce
Posted on 2022-11-22
The title of this blog post is perhaps influenced by the Thanksgiving season. I bounced between a “mix of the right ingredients” and a “recipe for success.” Ultimately, I considered how components of a successful science lesson can vary depending on how the teacher uses children’s books. Different types of books can be integrated into the lesson: fiction, nonfiction, biographical, etc.; sets of classroom books can be used; and children can make connections to the books that are used. However, it is not enough to consider the individual components of the lesson, but also how and when they are used in the lesson.
Identify the lesson topic, determine the appropriate standards to meet, set the objectives to be accomplished, and review the 5E model. The 5E model is the guiding structure for how a lesson is designed. Books can be integrated into different sections of the 5E model.
Step 1: Identify the children’s books.
Once a lesson topic has been selected and objectives set, it is important to consider possible children’s books that are available or might be selected for the lesson. Will it be a single book? A class set of books? Teachers often have a collection of their own children’s books to use in lessons. Depending on the topic, a plethora of books may be available, such as in life science and adaptations that help animals survive. Or the selection might be more limited, such as in the physical sciences. It is extremely important to select quality children’s books that have accurate information and do not generate misconceptions. If you want to expand your book options, check these great resources that provide lists of vetted children’s books for science/STEM subjects: Outstanding Science Trade Books, Best STEM Books, AAAS/Subaru Science Book List, and Mathical Book Prize.
Step 2: Determine where in the lesson to use the books and their purpose.
Returning to the ingredient analogy for a moment, note that everyone has likely read a recipe and perhaps mixed all of the ingredients without following the directions about when certain ingredients are added and how they should be mixed. This often results in a product that might be of lower quality than the desired outcome. The same idea holds true for when and how trade books can and should be used within the lesson. Books can be used in a variety of ways within a lesson, from engaging and creating interest for students, to providing resources that give them information to support their learning, to even presenting a new situation around which they need to apply their understanding.
Keep in mind that both fictional and nonfiction books can be used within the Engage section of the 5E model to generate a question, spark curiosity, or simply engage students in a topic. For example, the book Snowflake Bentley tells the story of William Bentley going outside during a snowfall and trying to catch snowflakes and examine them. A book like this can be used to generate questions such as these: Have you observed snowflakes? Do you think that there are different types of snowflakes, and why? What are the weather conditions that produce different types of snowflakes? By using a book in the Engage section, the teacher may make “text to” connections that help the students recall information from prior lessons, tie in local experiences, or even make the topic relevant to their own lives.
Another way books are used within a 5E model would be in the Explain section. Students may still have questions about what occurred while exploring a topic. Using trade books as a source of information can help students fill in the gaps or ask additional questions, or help provide them with concrete examples of an abstract topic. Returning to the topic of weather and precipitation, students might make observations of clouds, describe cloud types, and track the weather that each type of cloud might bring throughout an exploration part of a lesson. Using The Man Who Named the Clouds as an information source as students begin to make connections between their descriptions and observations to the actual names of clouds would be a good choice. This particular story provides not only information on cloud types and names, but also how the process was undertaken by Luke Howard in the late 1700's.
Finally, a book could be used in the Extend section of a lesson to create a need for or application of the information learned. This transfer of knowledge and understanding to a new situation could be as simple as asking the students to create or sketch a model that incorporates the ideas learned.
Step 3: Plan for the use of the book.
As you begin to design and plan your lesson, keeping consistent with the 5E model can help structure the lesson in a way that engages students in the process of sensemaking. In addition to the book, additional components are needed that will help students use the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) in conjunction with learning information related to a Disciplinary Core Idea. It is important to note that reading the book alone is not a science lesson: The trade book should support the lesson and student learning. Use the trade book to generate questions that will engage the students, or ask students to use the book to answer questions that they might have from an investigation.
In all honesty, I am extremely thankful for the many quality children’s books published every year because they provide an "on-ramp" for many students' (and teachers’) interest in science and STEM topics. Using them in a lesson allows the teacher to engage students while at the same time integrating different strategies from reading to the SEPs. Just like with a recipe, changing one ingredient can also change the outcome. So be daring and find new books or new investigations to incorporate into your lessons.
Christine Anne Royce is the author of the Teaching Through Trade Books column in Science and Children, which integrates children’s literature and science content lessons for grades K-5. She is also the co-author of Teaching Science Through Trade Books and the Investigate and Connect Series. Royce is a professor of science/STEM education at Shippensburg University (Pennsylvania), where she teaches both undergraduate- and graduate-level methods classes. She is also a past president of the National Science Teaching Association. Follow her @caroyce.
The mission of NSTA is to transform science education to benefit all through professional learning, partnerships, and advocacy.