Science and Literacy


Science experiences provide an optimal context for literacy development, and literacy experiences can contribute significantly to science learning. Students who engage in scientific inquiry generate questions, seek answers to those questions, refine their thinking by expressing their ideas, and share their investigations and knowledge with others. They talk, listen, read, and write in service of their science learning.

Classroom that integrate science and literacy have been shown to have the potential to increase student achievement in both literacy and science for a diverse range of students, including English language learners. Approaches seek to engage students in learning science concepts in depth, while also increasing their skills in reading, writing, and discussing science.

Science and Literacy Development

There are basic synergies between science and literacy. There are dimensions of learning where science and literacy share highly complementary and sometimes identical learning goals, cognitive processes, and discourse practices. For example, central aspects of both science inquiry and reading comprehension are students' posing of questions, making predictions, and drawing inference.

The curiosity and need to know that fuel scientific inquiry also promote active, purposeful engagement with text. In reading, students use the same processes they use in scientific inquiry. They question, predict, and use evidence to support conclusions. Students' interactions with text extend their understanding of science and result in additional questions, further fueling inquiry.

Integrating Science and Literacy

Integration of science and literacy typically involving students in making observations, conducting tests and experiments, modeling scientific phenomena, gathering data, and searching for evidence. Students are also typically involved in making sense of investigations and of data presented in text and other secondhand sources (e.g., books, articles, reports, presentations, and conversations with peers).

As learning in the two domains is integrated, literacy activities support the acquisition of science concepts and inquiry skills, while inquiry science serves as a compelling context for literacy development. Goals are for students to develop deep science knowledge and an understandings of the nature of science while also developing reading, writing, and oral communication skills.

Informational Text

Informational texts in science play an important role in both science learning and literacy development. They inform and extend science knowledge; provide access to the kinds of language scientists use as they read, write, and talk; enable students to go back and forth in their explorations between instances of the here-and-now and abstractions of general concepts and processes; and give rise to new questions.

At the same time, informational texts build background knowledge necessary for comprehension, expose students to academic language in science, and present students with a variety of text features and structures that they must learn to navigate in order to become successful readers of scientific text.

Engaging children in creating their own original science books advances their understanding as they express new knowledge in writing and in illustrations. The production of their own books involves them in thinking about and organizing content and in using the language of science, and sharing the books they have created with others reinforces their excitement about science. Elementary teacher candidates creating science books (.pdf) prepares them to do this in their own classrooms.

Directed Activities Related to Text (DART)

Dr. Jeffrey Paradis, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry, California State University, Sacramento

DART activities are aimed at helping students learn to read and discuss science content more effectively and to thereby learn the material. Research is finding that students often don't adequately engage with assigned readings. Educated adults need to be able to get new information and ideas and make sense of them on their own. DART activities are designed to facilitate these skills.

DART #1: Reading a Science Textbook
DART #2: Reading a Science News Article
DART #3: Researching and Writing about Science
DART #4: Talking about Science

Each numbered activity includes a rationale, multiple-part instructions, and probing questions for completing the activity.

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