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Informational Texts: 2nd and 3rd Grade Science

Updated on March 28, 2014

Content Area Reading

There's science -- and then there's science reading! Both require instruction. Content area reading in science and social studies can be more difficult than fiction. Left to their own devices, students often select story books. As they get older, though, they're expected to read complex nonfiction text. One of the goals of the Common Core Initiative, which most states have by now adopted, is to make sure that kids are getting text that's sufficiently complex and challenging in all genres -- including nonfiction!

Adopting the Common Core doesn't mean all schools are going to teach the same things. It does mean that states are making an effort to be on the same page when it comes to what students at different levels should be able to do. One of the big issues is text complexity. There's no Common Core canon, but there is a group of books that have been benchmarked as "exemplar texts" -- examples. They're getting quite a bit of scrutiny these days.

I've been looking over some of the Common Core informational texts at the 2nd/ 3rd grade level! It's the grade level combo I know best -- and books at that level are just plain fun. They're heavy on pictures and often cleverly written, but there's more content than there is at the lower levels.

What are the science topics covered in these exemplar texts? Plants and bats, dinosaurs and space, water... oh, and the scientific process!

Images by the Author

Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs!

Children in elementary school sometimes respond that the way scientists know things is they read books. Ah, but what about the scientific process... and the ever changing nature of scientific knowledge?

Here's a fun book about the scientific process. You got to love that title: "Boy, Were We Wrong..." It's such an important concept: Scientists have methods of finding out things and sometimes, yes, their theories change.

The book is organized around misconceptions. Over a period of time, scientists have found fossils and other evidence of dinosaur lives. However, the theories they put together, and the visual images that were constructed, were often wrong.

And guess what? It's still happening. The book concludes by telling children that the next big breakthrough might come from... themselves!

Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs!
Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs!

This book discusses our evolving knowledge about dinosaurs. Another "Boy Were We Wrong" book discusses the solar system.


Using 'Boy Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs' to Support Reading Comprehension

Lesson Plan Ideas

Construct a chart. Put "Scientists used to think..." on one side and "Now they think..." on the other. Use the chart to retell the book's important concepts.

Study the timeline on the back page. (If you have a document camera, this is a great time to take advantage of it.)

Talk about why scientists believed what they did. Scaffold by giving some guiding words to help students write about cause and effect: "Scientists thought ___________ because______".

Notice the text features. Pay particular attention to the timeline on the back page. Also note how the dinosaur names are written in italics. Why? It tells us that they are dinosaur names. (It also can be a clue to young readers that these are words they won't necessarily be expected to pronounce them! This is a hang up for some young kids -- they get so hung up on trying to pronounce things like Latin names that they start to lose meaning.)

Science Vocabulary in 'Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs':

cold-blooded, warm-blooded, microscopic, energy, fossils, tendons, herd, blood vessels, acid rain

More About the Standards - And Some of My Own Thoughts

Third grade standards for informational text include, among other things, determining the main idea, using text features, figuring out the mean of academic words, and comparing and contrasting two different informational texts. It's basic stuff -- pretty similar to what has often appeared in state standards. One of the key points,though, is that the readings should be sufficiently challenging. (States haven't always defined what grade level appropriate text is -- some have focused instead on making a list of skills.)

The Common Core movement is not without controversy. One concern is that children will fall further behind if they are given texts that are beyond their current instructional. That is valid -- and yet I see traditional textbooks as more of an issue than the engaging nonfiction that I see suggested here for third graders. Traditional textbooks (math, science, history) have often been a one-size-fits-all when it comes to reading level. And the textbooks are often not as engaging as trade paperback nonfiction.

Children sometimes read a little beyond the reading level they've been assessed at -- when they have background knowledge and/ or strong interest in the subject area and when they really want to read a particular book.

An Exemplar Read Aloud

In grades K-3, there are exemplar read-alouds as well as read alone texts. A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder is considered an exemplar read-aloud.

I can't speak for everyone, but I haven't felt much surprise at the level kids were (generally) expected to read. What I have personally felt surprise at was some of the things that were included as read-alouds -- what they were expected to comprehend or attend to.

A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder

A few things to know about this book: First, it's jam-packed. If you're studying water, you might be able to organize a whole unit around this book. Second, it describes some simple demonstrations that a lot of children will genuinely enjoy. It's every day sort of stuff, but the camera shows you details you don't normally see.

Third... the book could take a substantial amount of work. It could be a lot of work for third graders to grasp the vocabulary and concepts. And it will take some planning on the part of the teacher to use effectively.

I have often read nonfiction read-alouds that were at a level many children could read themselves. The idea is this: I only have to check out one copy from the library and everyone gets the benefit. I can read a couple information texts a day, and do it pretty quickly -- children are engaged, they learn some facts and concepts... in science, social studies, the arts.

But this is something different. Not only does it include vocabulary that would be difficult for most children to read, it also (I think) will challenge children's listening comprehension.

In some ways, the text is supportive. Each spread is its own topic. And each spread has a heading that gives a clue about the topic. But there are so many concepts in such a short space -- I think it's best handled in bite-size doses. In short, I would put it more in the textbook category than the storybook category.

Students will understand the concepts better if they actually carry out experiments. You can turn to the back of the book and get some directions. Some concepts I think are far easier to grasp than others -- so pick and choose what matches your curriculum and meets your kids' needs.

Kids Will Want to Know...

The person who photographed and wrote the book is the same photographer who did the I Spy books.

Cross-Curricular Connection: Charlotte's Web

Studying Charlotte's Web? It might be a good time to read the section about dew! Toward the end, we get description of how the web -- and web writing --looks with dew on the threads.

Another Look at Water

This video gives another photographic exploration of water. It focuses more on large-scale things, though, and shows movement.

Reading About Bats!

The exemplar list includes two nonfiction books about bats. They could be paired together to compare and contrast nonfiction styles.

Bat Loves the Night has a story line that follows one particular bat -- a mama bat -- but also includes facts about bats. Although it's nonfiction, it includes some literary elements that we might expect from fiction. Children learn that bats are at home in the night in the same way fish are in the water.

Bat: Creatures of the Night briefly follows a particular colony of bats. Most of the book, however, has a traditional expository form. This could be a good text for looking at organization of expository text.

You can get lesson plans for Bat Loves the Night from the Oregon Reading Association. They are specifically focused on developing nonfiction reading strategies -- for example using text features and understanding the difference between expository and narrative.

Note: In April, there is a day set aside for bat appreciation.

Supporting Comprehension

The book I'm touting below grows out of a separate body of research -- research into the strategies that proficient readers use to keep their minds active, determine what material is most important, and grasp not just the details but the main ideas and themes. It's a separate body of research, but I think it can be complementary. It gives a methodology for complex text.

Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader's Workshop
Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader's Workshop

The book I'm showing off here is an older edition. I understand there is a newer one and that it is more pragmatic,but this is the one I know.


Thoughts to Share?

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    • nicenet profile image


      6 years ago

      I discovered that in the African educational system,children are often given instructions that are too advanced for them.I appreciate the scientific information.

    • tfsherman lm profile image

      tfsherman lm 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for a nice lens on this somewhat confusing subject. I'm wondering, is this the wave of the future or just a new trend? As a librarian, I don't even know where to start! Thanks for the info.

    • iamraincrystal profile image

      Rosyel Sawali 

      6 years ago from Manila Philippines

      Indeed lots of details need to be looked into when teaching esp. in the lower grades. I love thematic lessons ^_^


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