PARCC in Massachusetts

One teacher's attempt to connect with other educators across Massachusetts and beyond and provide relevant, up-to-date, and sometime helpful information on next generation assessments, common core state standards implementation, and college and career ready initiatives

Close Reading and Writing in Science and Technical Subjects

Close Reading and Writing In Science & Technical Subjects

I recently attended a solid presentation entitled, “Close Reading and Writing in Science and Technical Subjects,” which served both as great PD, but also as a great window into literacy as a shared work of all teachers in the school.  The following is a brief narrative (quickly typed notes!) of that experience.  Here is a link to the slides.

Part 1 of the session was an introduction to the C-E-R Framework

Opening Question:  Why is literacy important in the science classroom?

One tool to crafting scientific arguments is the Claims, Evidence, Reasoning Framework (C-E-R).  The claim is a statement that is the object of the explanation.  It is often in the prompt for the task given or what the argument is intended to support.  Often stating claims is not part of normal conversation and is usually implicit, but in scientific argument the claim needs to be clearly stated.

Model C-E-R Sequence 1.

Why is literacy important in the science classroom?


Literacy is important in the science classroom.


Students engage in safe investigations by reading lab proecudres and communicating their findings in written or spoken lab reports.  [Other possible pieces of evidence: Students engage in active reading of their textbooks.  Students write in a variety of modalities including annotating text, summarizing text, opinion pieces, analysis of current research, and translating technical language into everyday language.]


Therefore students must be literate to successfully complete investigations and effectively report their findings using precise academic language and logical reasoning.

Everyday speech usually goes straight to reasoning, but does not often reference the claim or the evidence.  As a result the “therefore” or the “since” transition word is often missing when a question is answered.  The reasoning should clearly connect and reference the evidence in a way that supports the opening claim.  Students and teachers alike often leave the claim unstated and then intertwine evidence and reasoning.  This intertwining is often complex and effective, but if often lacks precision.  Using a framework like C-E-R scaffolds the experience and provides a structure that gives the level of specificity often required in technical subjects.  This framework also helps focus feedback on specific components of the argument that can help develop students ability to identify and write a claim, evidence, etc.

Model C-E-R Sequence 2

Consider the prompt based on an associated text:  “Explain why greenhouse walls can be constructed of glass or clear plastic but not wood or metal.”

Claim:  Neither wood nor metal will work as the walls of a greenhouse.

Evidence:  Wood and metal do not allow visible light to pass through them.  Light can pass through both glass and clear plastic, but lower-energy thermal radiation cannot.  A Greenhouse warms up when light energy is absorbed by materials inside that can radiate that thermal energy back into the greenhouse as they heat up.

Reasoning: If the material of the walls blocks light energy from getting inside the greenhouse then it cannot become trapped thermal energy and the greenhouse will not warm up.  Therefore, wood and metal would not work for the construction of greenhouses.

Part 2 of the session was an introduction to close reading in the scientific classroom.

An excerpt from the text given in the session is below:

Greenhouses allow gardeners to grow plants in cooler weather.  Radiation from the Sun passes through the glass and is absorbed by objects inside, causing them to increase in temperature and radiate a much longer wavelength of energy back into the greenhouse.  This lower-energy thermal radiation is unable to pass back through the glass and is trapped inside the greenhouse.  As a result, the temperature of the air inside the greenhouse is increased.  With controlled mixing between the inside and outside air, this allows heat in the greenhouse to be regulated.

Here is the quickly typed narration of  the modeled close reading. I have only included the series of questions and not the responses!

Read the paragraph independently.

What is the purpose or function of the first sentence in this paragraph?

What does the structure of sentence 2 tell you about the information being conveyed?

How could we translate sentence 2 into a diagram/process?  How does the language of the sentence demonstrate or convey that a process is being described?

In sentence three what does “this” refer to?

How does understanding what this refers to help you learn the connection between length of wavelength and the energy associated with thermal radiation?

*The act of reading closely and scrutinizing the structure of the language can reveal and expose the scientific content to be learned.  While not possible for every reading this (!) example shows that students looking at the construction of the paragraph learn that longer wavelength radiation is lower energy radiation.  Students through close reading can come to see how the language starts to build the ideas of science and to read independently in order to learn.

Part 3 of the session was a review of a “lab” experience from beginning to end with an eye to all literacy standards.

As a group we looked at the entire lab experience from pre-reading, question sets, performance of the lab, and finally the lab report to identify what literacy standards were covered through a particular lab experience.  It was very revealing! Below are pictures how we as a group recorded where throughout the entire lab experience particular standards were met.  Each sticky-note on the poster paper is some aspect of the task that has been aligned/assigned with a standard.



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This entry was posted on May 31, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged .

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The opinion expressed within each post is my own and is not a reflection of the Massachusetts' Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, PARCC, or any other body.

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