New Teacher Strategies: 5 ways to boost non-fiction reading skills in the middle school science classroom

Have you ever attended a data meeting where the coaches pass around print-outs of the math and English Language Arts (ELA)  scores for state testing, and thought to yourself, “Thank goodness I’m not an ELA teacher!” Here’s a fact: If you’re a teacher, you’re a reading teacher. Your job is to support and extend learning in reading and writing through your content area. Here are some tips for effectively adding cross-curricular language arts skills and lessons to your content area. 

  1. Start with the standards. Right? Whatever your content area is, there is a good chance your state or district has embedded ELA standards into your content area standards. In my current district, the science standards for 6th grade didn’t have related reading or writing standards. When I moved up to 8th grade science, I was beside myself when I found all of the non-fiction standards woven into the science standards. It was a real timesaver!
  2. Connect with your language arts teacher. Whether you’re teamed or not, asking your ELA teacher ways that you can support non-fiction reading goals in your content-area classroom is a good place to start. Maybe he or she already as a terrific lesson set on 
  3. Read a fiction or non-fiction text in your class. This sounds fringe, but it’s worth a try if you’re willing to be adventurous! A few autumns ago, I launched the idea with my ELA teacher and grade-level science partner to have students follow a lesson set for a fiction text in our sixth-grade science class. The parents thought we were crazy. The students said, “Why do we have to read? This is a science class!” My teaching partner and I persevered. It was messy, we took too long to teach the unit, and didn’t embed enough science in the lessons. But in the end, the students loved the characters and we had anchored their learning about ecosystems to a compelling character. An added bonus? The students’ reading scores went through the roof when they had winter testing. 
  4. Be authentic. When you’re searching for articles for your non-fiction reading and writing lessons, make sure to find texts that authentically support your content-area standards. This can be difficult (which is why I just started writing my own!). Texts are out there. When you’re planning the overview of your school year, find the texts all in one sitting. Set aside the time to locate and print the readings. Additionally, you could create a document with links to all of the readings and activities for easy access. Read the texts ahead of time to make sure they match your standards. Then, find supporting activities to strategically teach the reading and writing skills, such as summarizing, making inferences, and citing text evidence. If you have all of your resources ready at the beginning of the year, you’re more likely to make time for reading and writing in your classroom.
  5. Find credible resources. In many cases, the ELA teacher for your grade level will have resources for teaching non-fiction reading and writing. You know those planning days at the beginning of the year? Sit down with the ELA teacher best matched to your grade and core content area and find the resources you need to be effective at crosswalking the ELA curriculum with your standards. 

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