Support students in improving non-fiction writing skills in the middle school science classroom

In 2015, I transitioned from teaching elementary school to teaching science at the middle school level. With a background in chemistry, I was thrilled to be teaching a grade level that included state standards for matter and its interactions. Having taught reading from grades 1-6 in elementary, I felt confident that I’d be able to support my students in building their non-fiction reading and writing skills. That’s when I learned that middle school reading and writing is a whole new ball game. 

My teaching partner, a kind, incredibly smart, and experienced teacher was tasked with teaching me claim, evidence, and reasoning CER writing. Even as a subscriber to the National Science Teaching Association,  had never noticed this writing style and was a complete newbie. It took me two full years to understand the purpose of CER writing and to realize that this style of non-fiction reading and writing was not a great fit for many of my sixth graders. 

What wasn’t working? The R in CER! Providing reasoning was a hit-and-miss task for sixth graders. Some students understood how to support the claim and evidence with reasoning with just a little instruction, while others were not able to provide reasoning no matter how much direct instruction and practice they were given. After a lot of reflection and a little luck, I shifted the focus from reasoning to argument. Reflection led me to understand that some students, from a developmental standpoint, simply weren’t ready for this higher-order thinking task. Luck dropped a lesson in my hands that used claim, evidence, and argument in my lap to act as a building block to CER. 

The first step in learning about claim, evidence, and argument writing is to be able to identify claims in a piece of non-fiction writing. What’s a claim? It’s a statement that the author, or an expert in the text, is making. Just like determining the main idea, there is generally one over-arching claim for an article. It can be supported by other claims and evidence. Identifying evidence involves looking for data, dates, and facts that are referenced by reputable experts or government agencies. Writing the argument is like a summary of the non-fiction article’s main idea. What was the author trying to convey in their article? What was the main argument he or she was making?

If you’re a new teacher, a teacher new to this type of writing or just want a little support in teaching the claim, evidence, and argument writing style, try out this free resource that I created. Go to these links on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Support your middle school students in developing their non-fiction reading and writing skills. This free resource includes pdf versions of a newspaper article, writing graphic organizer and teacher key.

Great for distance learning, homeschooling or in-class (with 1:1 devices), this set includes a pdf of the non-fiction reading and teacher key, and a writing graphic organizer in Google Doc format.

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