Guidance and Resources to Support Teaching and Learning Remotely

Reading and Thinking Like Scientists - Day 1

Strategies for Making Meaning from Complex Scientific Text



Grade Level


Science teacher Peter Hill, from King Middle School in Portland, Maine, carefully guides his students through a challenging scientific text on electricity. Working with the school's ELL teacher, Hill scaffolds his lesson to best support his students.




Grade Level


Science teacher Peter Hill, from King Middle School in Portland, Maine, carefully guides his students through a challenging scientific text on electricity. Working with the school's ELL teacher, Hill scaffolds his lesson to best support his students.



- If you remember from last week’s experiment, this thing, if you spin it, it generates electricity.

- [Narrator] In Peter Hill’s 8th grade science class students are learning to read and think like scientists, closely reading a complex scientific article. They are developing a conceptual understanding of how electricity works.

- Talking to a scientist once and he said, “Look, my job is 10% experimenting, 40% writing and 50% reading.” So I want kids to have a middle school version of that experience in my classroom. Basically today we’re gonna read a really complicated article that explains why moving magnets over wires makes electricity. All of this stuff is focused on this target. I can explain how magnets and wires work together to effect electrical energy. So today we’re gonna learn the why. I had a pretty complex text that I wanted the kids to dive into. It had complex vocabulary, complex concepts and a lot of the concepts were abstract. We’re talking about things like atoms that nobody’s ever seen before. So we needed to find ways for the kids to really tackle that complex text. The first thing we’re gonna do is a pre-reading activity. Before we even start the article, you’re gonna work in teams to do this activity that we call GPS. Does anybody know what GPS stands for? Eve?

- [Eve] Global positioning system?

- It does for most scientists. For us it’s standing for something much more basic, glue, paper and scissors. Alright, so you’ll see what that. Before we started reading we looked at the vocabulary that was gonna turn up in the text. I took the text that you’re about to read and I took out all the key vocabulary words. I sliced them up into individual little tags. With your teams, you’re gonna take apart those tags, you’re gonna spread them out and you’re gonna talk about the words. You’re gonna organize them on that blue piece of paper in a way that makes sense to your team.

- [Student] Are we gonna do sentences?

- [Student] Yeah.

- So maybe like all the types of energy.

- Maybe we should have what it is on one side and the.

- [Mr. Hill] We have a heterogeneous class with readers from all over the world and at all different levels. The value in that activity is the kids sitting together and talking about the words and just having those in the forefront of their minds so that we can transition right into reading the text.

- What about conduction? Two words that I was struggling with were induction and conduction.

- Do you remember the video you guys watched about Tesla? He invented the induction motor.

- Oh.

- During the activity it helped me know which one is which.

- What does a train conductor do?

- He controls the train to where it should go.

- Yeah so there’s an element of movement usually involved.

- And how they interact with electricity.

- It’s like causing something to happen to make this movement. So that, you could probably think about how that relates to electrons. Gonna actually tackle the article now. So you have a choice to make about how you want to read this article. This one, which is the article and the separate note catcher. If you feel like this stuff is totally brand new to you and the categorization might be difficult, grab this one which has the note catcher kind of embedded right in the text. We think it’s important that all kids read the same text, we just had different options for how the text was formatted.

- Peter came to me before this lesson and said, “I want to use this particular reading about electricity “but I’m concerned that it might not be accessible “especially for some of our English language learners.” So he took me through the article and the note catcher that he designed.

- We found a way to chunk out the text and imbed some note catchers and sentence starters in those note catchers so students that are struggling with reading or students that are learning English could access that difficult text but with just some scaffolds built in so that they could still be successful.

- I chose an article that had a sheet and then an extra note catcher attached to it. And I tend to write a lot and by having that extra space it makes me want to write more and have more detail in it.

- I chose one that would suit me best on my level of the topic electricity. And the one I chose had a vocabulary section and a section where you can take notes.

- One thing that’s hard for students is moving back and forth between the text and the notes. I took the note catcher and divided it along the same headings as the article. Guiding them in that movement from the article to the note catcher and back helps them keep track of their thinking as they read.

- I’m gonna read the first paragraph out loud. And then at the end of the paragraph I’m gonna ask you to do a CAT-P on the page because remember CAT-P is the strategy we’re gonna use to keep ourselves focused while we’re reading. We have a classroom strategy that we use all year long. What kids do is as they’re reading, they code the text in one of four ways. They can make a connection to something they know they could ask a question, they could translate the information into their own words or they could predict what’s gonna happen next in the text. So we affectionately call that CAT-P. Flip a switch, turn a knob, plug in a battery, press a power button. All of these actions turn on the electrical devices that we use each day.

- When someone reads the text, rather than focusing on reading, you can actually focus on what it’s actually saying and what it means.

- I think it’s important for kids to hear difficult things read with the proper inflection and read well. That gives them an opportunity to hear the words and to hear the cadence and the sentence structure. Since everything in the universe is made of atoms, everything in the universe also contains electrons. Okay write down what you’re thinking right now. Okay lean across the table, talk to the person that you’re facing and have a conversation with them about what you were thinking when you read that paragraph.

- I said everything in the universe contains electrons.

- I said electricity is based off of electrons.

- I did connection and I said if two electrons touch each other they produce electricity.

- So as the year goes on and kids become more comfortable with this close reading strategy, that frees me up to go around and check in with kids.

- If you just rush through a text then you wouldn’t understand anything about it. But if you read it carefully and you use CAT-P then you can understand and you would know what’s going on in the text.

- I think you’ve got what you need to be able to tackle this at home. We’re gonna use it for a group activity tomorrow. So put that in a safe place so it can get done.

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