Content-Area Literacy

Composing Science

Curators notes:

Another tremendously useful resource is this interview with the authors of the NWP book Composing Science. The focus is science, but the lessons learned can be easily translated across disciplines.


In this engaging NWP Radio Show, Kim Jaxon and Leslie Atkins Elliott, two of the authors of Composing Science: A Facilitator's Guide to Writing in the Science Classroom, talk about teaching writing, teaching science, and creating classrooms in which students use writing to learn and think scientifically. In a lively conversation, Kim, a composition and literacy specialist, and Leslie, a science teacher educator with a Ph.D. in physics, talk about concrete strategies and approaches for engaging students in practices that mirror the work that writing accomplishes in the development and dissemination of scientific ideas. Together they address a range of practices that can help students deepen their scientific reasoning. Their book is also an excellent resource for teachers engaged in an inquiry into disciplinary literacy or considering how writing fits within NGSS.

Listen to the Show

Duration: 59 minutes

The conversation is far-reaching and introduces the major sections of their practical yet inspiring book. For reference, chapter markers are included below:

Chapter Markers:

00:00:00 – Introductions and Origin of the Project
00:09:54 – Science Notebooks and Writing to Learn
00:15:35 – Peer Activities and Peer Response
00:24:58 – Writing to Communicate to Other People
00:29:18 – “Precision” in Science and Science Writing
00:34:03 – Summative Writing
00:41:35 – Something to Say and a Conversation to Join
00:46:57 – Genre Conventions and Authentic Inquiry
00:51:00 – Adaptations for Different Class Situations

You can find associated resources and lesson plans at the book’s companion website: Composing Science: Online Resource for Science Educators.

In this sample chapter on Final Papers from Composing Science, authors Leslie Atkins Elliot, Kim Jaxon, and Irene Salter explain how to construct writing assignments that emphasize helping students develop and explore scientific ideas, in dialogue with a classroom scientific community.

Excerpt from Chapter:

Rhetorical structures, which may be useful in organizing ideas and helping us find the holes in our arguments, can do only so much in helping us have an argument to make in the first place. If students ‘cannot’ write a topic sentence, it is likely that they have no topic sentence. If they do well on all but the “analysis” section of a lab report—and why report on a lab if not for the analysis?—then it is likely that they have no real analysis to share. These structures can help highlight that, but all the writing instruction, rubrics, and templates cannot give students something to say.

It is, therefore, critical that students have something to say—a hard-won idea that they are proud of, a unique insight that they have developed, a representation or a piece of evidence or a way of phrasing an idea, or even a question that their investigations have helped them articulate. One aim of our course is to help students have scientific ideas they want to share. That, in a nutshell, can be considered the underlying goal of lab notebooks, whiteboards, class discussions, definitions, and reading annotations. And the purpose of the final writing assignments is to give students a place where they can say it.”


Download PDF:  “Final Papers”: A Chapter from Composing Science: A Facilitator’s Guide to Writing in the Classroom

Download audio: “A Conversation with the Authors of Composing Science: A Facilitator’s Guide to Writing in the Science Classroom

This post is part of the Strengthening Disciplinary Literacy collection.

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