How to Integrate Literacy and Science Instruction
Cross-Curricular Strategies for Elementary and Secondary Classrooms
Teachers have so much content to cover, and among all the routines and interruptions of a bustling classroom, it often feels like there’s just not enough time for instruction. Cross-curricular practices can be a useful tool to reinforce concepts across subjects when time is limited. In the case of science and literacy, many teachers may find that integrating science content into their ELA block is a great way to practice literacy skills while diving deeper into STEM concepts that they only had time to introduce during their science block. Cross-curricular practices also offer a unique opportunity to practice skills and explore content in a new context, perhaps even with real-world applicability: writing a persuasive essay about greenhouse gas emissions might spark a future environmentalist’s career!
Great Readers and Writers Make Great Scientists
Science and literacy aren’t perhaps the most commonly integrated subjects — but beginning in elementary school and throughout upper grades, they require many shared skills and hold opportunities for deeper learning.
Foundational literacy skills are critical in science. Any great scientist must collaborate with peers and participate in productive discussions — which, of course, isn’t possible without speaking and listening skills. Success in science also requires strong reading comprehension skills, which students build in ELA through vocabulary practice, close reading routines, and opportunities to access complex text. With a bit of planning and thoughtful consideration of your students’ needs, overlapping these skills in each subject can allow science and literacy growth to flourish in tandem.
Here are a few specific practices to integrate science and literacy instruction, applicable for elementary and upper grades:
Leverage science texts in literacy instruction.
If you’re facing a shortage of time dedicated to science, this strategy is a great option. Consider using time in the literacy block to more deeply explore science concepts while strengthening foundational literacy skills. Science texts offer great opportunities to access complex text and engage in close reading. Swap out reading materials with news articles, nonfiction texts, or even fictional stories that support the concepts you’re covering in science. To select the right text, first consider the “big idea” or main exploratory question of your literacy lesson and cross-reference your available science materials (or supplemental materials you can find online) for a piece that supports your lesson.
For example, if your elementary school class is investigating the essential question, “In what ways can you help your community?” in their ELA block, and talking about photosynthesis in their science block, work in a story about community gardens. If possible, be mindful to select texts that match your students’ individual reading needs, so that no matter their place in their reading journeys, they have equitable access to the science concepts. Actively Learn’s free library of science articles is filterable by Lexile level. Find it here: https://www.activelylearn.com/.
Promote speaking and listening through collaborative discussion in science.
In an NGSS-aligned science lesson, students are likely encouraged to explore phenomena, or events that we can use science knowledge to explain and predict, through collaborative discussion. Students develop their own questions about phenomena, explore how things work, and apply what they know about science to understand why things happen.
This critical work is inextricably tied to speaking and listening skills in literacy. Integrate speaking and listening into your science block by reinforcing principles around obtaining new information and using that information to express new ideas. Or, loop phenomena concepts into your ELA block by using a science text as a basis for speaking and listening practices. Research indicates that instruction in speaking and listening is particularly valuable for English Learners and students with dyslexia, so embedding that practice in science instruction will make important science concepts more accessible for all your students.
For more on collaborative discussion in science, see:
How to Help Your Students Engage in Productive Discourse During Small Groups
By Becky McDowell, Science Curriculum Writer
Write about science.
This practice can be useful for all grades. From research, we know that having students write about what they read contributes to comprehension. Writing in response to science texts will allow them to analyze the content to understand how or why things happen and subsequently develop their own questions, claims, and explanations. In literacy, consider how science topics can serve as writing prompts. Explorations of climate change or environmental sustainability can serve as excellent topics for practicing argumentative essays, for example.
You can get creative and use science concepts to inspire writing in other genres, too. Spending time outdoors and observing nature could be a springboard for poetry. Skylar Primm, an educator at an environmental charter school, created this downloadable activity on phenology, or the study of seasonal changes, to encourage empathy. It’s a great fit for journaling, informative writing, or creative writing. Finally, when possible, use science topics as bridges to authentic writing projects. It’s important for students to write for authentic audiences in real-world environments — perhaps students could write and record a podcast about phenomena that interest them or write for a school paper to advocate for more energy-saving practices in their school building.
Allow students to see themselves as scientists through stories.
Despite progress, STEM fields still lack diversity. It’s so important for students who belong to groups that have been historically excluded from these fields to be able to see themselves as future scientists and engineers. Literature and other multimedia can provide that window. In your ELA or your science block, expose students to stories of historical and current events and figures relevant to their experiences and identities so that they can both see themselves as scientists and better understand the relevance of science in their daily lives. As an educator, you know your students — what drives them, how they understand themselves in relation to the world around them, and what’s important to their evolving identities. Leverage that knowledge to weave culturally responsive science-related texts into your lessons.
For more, watch:
4 Ways to Build Literacy Into Science Lessons
By helping every student think, speak, read, and write like a scientist, teachers can boost engagement and…
Inspire Science, our PreK-12 science curriculum that sparks students’ curiosity through fascinating real-world phenomena, contains embedded resources to integrate instruction with literacy curricula. Inspire Science also includes leveled readers — with identical covers and titles — to ensure students have equitable access to the lesson. For more on Inspire Science, see: