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The last post in this series covered #lessongoals. I talked about how to plan your lessons for each standard during the school year. The Science in Perfect Portions Lesson Planning Format (with free templates) has been a breakthrough in my planning, so make sure you didn’t miss it!

What makes an outstanding Science program that supports the teachers in your school?

Calling all teachers, specialists, and principals! Its not a daunting task. I am here to help!

Do you wish your current science program included engaging hands-on activities that helped your students experience each standard in a meaningful way?

Do you wish your current science program provided rich informational texts and literacy skill building for each standard?

Do you wish your current science program offered a multifaceted approach to learning each standard to reach every type of learner on every level?

Do you wish your current science program covered the latest standards and trends in science education?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then this post is for you!

Let’s take a look at choosing resources for your science program.


Now that you have a lesson plan template to plug resources into, you will need to pick the most effective resources for teaching those standards. I’m sure most of you have a specified, limited time to teach each subject every day. You really need to make sure every resource you use gets the biggest bang for your buck. Whether you are scrolling through Pinterest, searching Teachers Pay Teachers, or digging through your school/classroom storage, you need to set some goals for finding quality teaching resources.

Some of the things I say in here may not be the most trendy, but you don’t always have to be trendy to be effective.

#1 Ditch the Textbook

If you must use it because it is all you have, I will list some options for making it work better for your students. But, textbooks are not engaging. I have found that they are too wordy and long. When a kid sees a book that weighs half as much as they do, it immediately overwhelms them. It is too much material to be handing to a child. They may not be able to focus on that one page or selection of pages because there are at least a hundred more pages that you handed them. Besides being generally overwhelming, textbooks are distracting. A student who struggles to focus is going to flip through pages looking for cool pictures, or find a way to make wind or noise by flipping through the pages quickly. And the biggest reason to ditch your textbooks is that learning needs to be hands-on and provide students with a meaningful experience. Don’t get me wrong, Reading is a must have! But, provide quality selections that give them the base knowledge they need without telling them things they could learn through experience in a hands-on activity. When selecting an informational text to replace textbook reading, I look for something that covers all the base knowledge and background knowledge they need to get the most out of the activities to follow. Does the text cover the basics of the standard(s) they need to learn through this lesson? Does the wording make sense to me and my students? Are the examples in the text meaningful to my students? Are the new, technical vocabulary words used in a way so my students will understand them? Does this text prepare my students for completing the “Experience” part of our lesson?

I make all my informational texts one page (occasionally they will be two pages when needed). This page will speak to the child on, or around, their level to give them the information they need. I place three key terms in each informational text in order to create a focus on new or important vocabulary that they will need throughout the lesson. With this informational text, give them a variety of ways to process and respond to it. I use a graphic organizer to record the important details from the reading, as well as a summary writing with key terms to process it. Take a look at these freebies to see what my informational text and processing activities look like. {Click the images for the link to each file}

science and literacy freebie FALL

science and literacy freebie SUN EARTH MOON


science and literacy freebie ENERGY

If you have to use the textbook:

One way to make reading a textbook more engaging would be to include movement. Give each student a graphic organizer to complete with the information. In each box of the graphic organizer, write the page number and section that they need to read. Place textbooks around the room, open to the pages they need. Students can travel around the room in pairs or groups putting all the pieces together of their reading. They can read the section that the textbook is open to, and fill in its corresponding box on their graphic organizer with summaries, important details, diagrams, timelines, definitions… whatever goals you want them to accomplish at each reading section. They are moving. They are not flipping through any pages. They know that it is a small portion that they read at each station.

Another thing you can do is write some meaningful quotes (or selections) from the textbook on the board. Give each group (or pair) a quote to read and share their thoughts among the group. Then, have each group share their conversations with the class. This will be giving students the meaningful information without having to take on the textbook. You can also type these quotes on card stock and make them into task cards for this activity.

Make this meaningful textbook selection activity even better by giving the kids a template for recording thoughts or drawing visual representations of each textbook selection. This could be a chart with two columns and a row for each quote. Write the quote in the first column and the response in the second.

#2 Meaningful, Hands-On Activities

The bulk of your teaching should be done in an interactive way. For science, this is easy. Labs are the best way to allow students to “experience” the standard first hand. They are memorable and exciting. Choose a lab, or experiment, that matches your standards. It needs to allow them to see how the standard applies in real life while combating any misconceptions students have coming into the lesson, as well as preventing any future misconceptions. Do your research if it is a topic you do not know extremely well. There are so many Pinterest experiments with higher level science titles that really aren’t the best example of that concept. I am always available by email if you need help with this. Kids LOVE labs and experiments, so use that excitement to really get them learning. Look at how my students got to “play” with sand and water to learn about weathering, erosion, and deposition.

Here I even modified it to let kids play while seeing high tide vs. low tide.

What about those concepts that just aren’t easily seen in a classroom lab? Or, what if you aren’t teaching Science? This is where we get creative. Think of all the ways you can bring that concept to the classroom in a new way. You could set up stations where students travel through a group of cards or images and respond to them. Put a part of the concept on each card with some activity or way to respond to that information. Always provide a recording sheet so they can keep record of their stations. Make sure that the concept is well demonstrated and correctly covered by the activity. I always look ahead to the similar standard(s) in higher grade levels to see where this knowledge needs to develop in the future. This will cut back on misconceptions and help prepare them for the road ahead. Make the activity fit as closely to the concept as possible so that it makes sense for that lesson. Look at this station from one of my biomes station sets. (I have a general one and a Utah specific one.)

Take a game that is simple to modify and change it so it teaches your students the concept. This is also a great way to get students active and having fun! Want to make it even more fun? Enlarge the game parts and pieces and  to make a life sized game! Take a look at this game I made for learning the life cycles. It could easily be made into a classroom sized game for more fun! This game guides the students through their game piece’s life cycle in order. They can research, reference an anchor chart, or look back at their informational text during this game to check for life cycle orders.

#3 Critical Thinking and Reflection

Okay… We read about it, we saw it in action, what else do we need to do? The most important part. 🙂 The next high quality activities you need are used to bring it all together, giving students the opportunity to draw conclusions and really think about what they just learned. What to look for here is higher level thinking, challenges, problem solving, analyzing data, drawing conclusions. This is a great place to have them answer the guiding questions (standards written as questions) from the lesson. They need to provide evidence to support their answer. I use a template called “Claim it! Support it! Explain it!” for students to make a claim related to the standard and back up that claim. Provide students with a graph or chart related to the topic and ask 3-5 higher level questions to guide them through analyzing that related data. This is the group of lesson resources that I find the most difficult to develop. It is hard to find critical thinking activities that are well qualified for the challenge level of my students and their expected level of thinking. I look at the released test questions from our state standardized test to get an idea of what rigor level they will see during state testing. I make sure that my critical thinking activities meet or exceed the rigor of those test questions.

Creative assignments are another way to get the critical thinking into a lesson. I always use the “student output” page of our interactive science notebook to bring in some creative thinking. What can they creatively write (stories, comics, or poetry) that will help them process this lesson and respond in a new, fun way. Give them a specific and meaningful purpose for this writing so they will reach those higher levels of thinking. Here is a look at a creative response with my kinder friends last year. They illustrated their own story map.

#4 Finding the Extras

Within your lesson resources for teaching any subject, there are some extra goodies that help you effectively teach your students. Look for quality writing templates to help you incorporate higher level thinking into any lesson. These should be open in format, yet guide students to reach higher levels of thinking in their writing. Poetry is also a great way to encourage creative thinking while processing information.

Interactive Notebooks are a popular tool to use in your classroom. There are many styles of interactive science notebooks. Some people love to use lots of cut and paste activities and make their notebooks really crafty and hands-on. Those notebooks are amazing. Not everyone has the time, student skill level, and copies available to do all this notebook crafting, and that’s okay. The notebooks in my 5th grade Science classroom a couple years ago did not have any cut and paste activities. All the work was hand written or drawn by my students. They were just as fun. They were just as engaging. They were just as meaningful. Whatever your style, the interactive notebooks will be as good as the quality of your activities. When I create interactive notebook sets for teachers, I make a variety of options so they can get crafty or get simple and still get the same information and same results. The activity below could be crafty, or just as easily be adapted as a T-chart students draw in their notebook.

Anchor Charts are a must have for me. I have taught 8th graders, 7th graders, 5th graders, and a blended Pre-K/Kindergarten class. Everyone of those age groups benefited from seeing and using anchor charts. An anchor chart can be anything from circle map of a topic to a detailed diagram. The quality standard for a good anchor chart is covering all aspects of the topic. Look at what your standards say about that topic and make sure it is well covered. Any extra visuals you can add to compare or connect the items on the anchor chart will make it even more effective.

Here is a simple anchor chart I made at the beginning of the year last year in my blended Pre-K/Kinder class.

And here is an anchor chart for 4th grade Science that I helped some teachers use last year in their classrooms.

Anchor Chart Sun Earth Moon.jpg

Introductory Activities can be a game, demonstration, or thinking page that gets the students thinking and curious about the upcoming topic. I love lab demonstrations for this, but read alouds, simple games or group activities using the lesson concepts, and video clips work as well. Make sure this activity gets them excited, curious, and activates prior knowledge.  These don’t necessarily need to be higher order thinking. Just something to get thinking started. Check out this fun glowing elephant toothpaste activity to get kids thinking about chemical reactions or light energy.

Click on the image below to check out poetry read alouds I love to use in Science.

poetry in science

Word Wall and Vocabulary are huge in learning new concepts. A quality vocabulary resource will provide the students with an opportunity to think about possible definitions, see actual definitions, and restate the definitions in their own words. They need to see and use these words in multiple ways to really know, understand, and remember the word and its meaning. Check out this Science Word Wall template. You can make something similar to this for any subject! Science Word Wall fossil freebieScience Word Wall fossil freebie


#5 What is higher level thinking? How do I know I have found it?

You may be wondering how to recognize higher level thinking. Its a challenging task and takes some time, but will get you the biggest return on your time spent looking. I’ll list a few things to look for when getting kiddos to that higher level thinking.

Are they creating a new idea or product from their own take on the topic?

They need to be drawing conclusions and making inferences. Reading between the lines and coming up with new ideas from the information provided. This can be shown in a writing, debating, or illustrations. Analyzing information by questioning what they see, relating it to something similar, comparing it to something different will lead to them drawing an original conclusion. They also can be accomplishing this by designing something and possibly even constructing it.

Their original ideas need to be justified or supported with evidence (research, lab results, or informational texts) and explained by connecting the evidence with the idea.

Higher level thinking will not be straight responses that they can point to the answer in something they read. It is not retelling or recalling information or events. It is not answered with a simple yes or no. It is not something regurgitated from memory. It is not defining a word. It is taking what they see and making a new, bigger idea from that information.

Critical Thinking Guidlines for Lesson Activities

Hopefully you were able to get some good ideas for finding great, engaging resources. My goal over the past few years has been to create engaging resources for science teachers to incorporate into their curriculum, and hopefully save them some time and sanity. As always, let me know if you have any questions or need more help planning!

Feel free to contact me at: elementaryali [@]

Watch for the next post in this series! Its one from this teacher’s heart 🙂


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