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Read About Best Practices in Science Content Integration


This module explores science content integration by detailing characteristics of good readers, strategic reading practices, tools for vocabulary acquisition, and writing connections.

Science content integration as discussed in this module is the symbiotic relationship of science and language arts, specifically how science texts are used to teach language arts skills and how language arts skills are used to acquire scientific knowledge. Teachers not only teach science, they also teach students how to use reading and writing to access science content-area material. By using specific comprehension tools and strategies, students are able to extend their understanding of science texts.

One skill necessary for content integration is metacognition — an awareness of mental functions, such as remembering, focusing attention on, and processing information. Metacognitive strategies include the following:

  • Previewing text before reading
  • Monitoring comprehension during reading
  • Summarizing material after reading

Another important skill for content integration is vocabulary acquisition. Strategies such as word-solving and using context clues and tools, such as dictionaries and graphic organizers, increase vocabulary.

Teaching words well entails helping students make connections between their prior knowledge and the vocabulary to be encountered in the text and providing them with multiple opportunities to clarify and extend their knowledge of words and concepts during the course of study.

—Vacca and Vacca

Science Standards

K–8 Science Content Standards are divided into eight categories:

  • Unifying concepts and processes in science
  • Science as inquiry
  • Physical science
  • Life science
  • Earth and space science
  • Science and technology
  • Science in personal and social perspectives
  • History and nature of science

Unifying Concepts and Processes in Science

Physical, life, Earth, and space science all have unifying concepts and processes. These include:

  • Systems, order, and organization
  • Evidence, models, and explanation
  • Change, constancy, and measurement
  • Evolution and equilibrium
  • Form and function

Concepts and processes are taught in different ways at different levels. For example, in the early grades “evidence, models, and explanation” may include a simple experiment that demonstrates cause and effect, while in the intermediate grades students might construct a model representing the atomic structure.

Science as Inquiry

The inquiry process allows students to observe, infer, and experiment as they combine scientific processes and knowledge with critical thinking to understand. While exploring a topic of interest, students ask questions, plan and conduct investigations, use appropriate tools and techniques to gather data, determine relationships, develop explanations, and communicate scientifically based arguments.

Inquiry can help students:

  • Learn scientific concepts
  • Comprehend the nature of science
  • Appreciate “how we know” what we know in science
  • Use the skills, abilities, and attitudes associated with science
  • Become independent inquirers about the natural world

Physical Science, Life Science, and Earth and Space Science

In these specialty areas, students focus on different concepts according to their grade levels:

Branch Grades K–4 Grades 5–8
Physical Science
  • Properties of objects and materials
  • Position and motion of objects
  • Light, heat, electricity, and magnetism
  • Properties and changes of properties in matter
  • Motions and forces
  • Transfer of energy
Life Science
  • Characteristics of organisms
  • Life cycles of organisms
  • Organisms and environments
  • Structure and function in living systems
  • Reproduction and heredity
  • Regulation and behavior
  • Population and ecosystems
  • Diversity and adaptations of organisms
Earth and Space Science
  • Properties of Earth’s materials
  • Objects of the sky
  • Changes in Earth and sky
  • Structure of Earth’s system
  • Earth’s history
  • Earth in the solar system

Science and Technology

Science and technology provide a link between nature and invention in our world, so students must be able to make decisions about the appropriateness, design, and use of different technologies. Within this standard, students learn to:

  • Identify and state a problem
  • Design a solution—including cost and risk analysis
  • Implement the solution
  • Evaluate results

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Since one important role of science education is to give students a framework to examine and act on personal and social issues, this standard is closely tied to social studies. K–4 students focus on characteristics and changes in populations, types of resources, changes in environments, and science and technology in local challenges. Students in Grades 5–8 study populations, resources, and environments, natural hazards, risks and benefits, and science and technology in society. Both groups target personal health as well.

Science is ongoing and changing. By studying history, students can understand the value of scientific inquiry, the human aspect of science, and the role that scientific study has played in the development of various cultures. The study of science as a human endeavor links science and social studies. In addition, fourth- through eighth-grade students focus on the nature of science and the history of science.

The Scientific Process

The scientific process provides a framework for examining various situations and a method for organizing and thinking about new information. Steps:

(1) Develop a Hypothesis.

When students look for answers, they must first define the question. A hypothesis states both a question and an expected answer. Throughout the process, students reflect on and rethink their hypothesis based on the information gathered.

(2) Conduct an Experiment.

To confirm the hypothesis, students must investigate. Experimenting with materials and situations provides an opportunity to answer questions based on factual evidence.

(3) Analyze the Data.

Once all of the data has been collected, students analyze the information and determine what it means through written descriptions, charts, graphs, spreadsheets, or comparison photos. Choosing the best way to analyze the data is critical to the success of this step.

(4) Compare the Results.

Once all of the information has been synthesized, students compare the factual results to the hypothesis.

(5) Determine a Conclusion.

Finally, students create a summary statement about the information collected. What do the facts say? Why is it important? What will this tell us about future situations?

The scientific process provides a strong model for systematic investigation. When students regularly practice and apply these steps, they can transfer them to other areas of life and become critical thinkers.

Strategic Reading

Skilled readers are strategic readers. They draw from a vast array of resources to help solve problems they encounter in the text. Problems may be as simple as decoding words or as difficult as inferring probable outcomes. Whatever the obstacles to comprehension, strategic readers find a way to make the meaning clear. For some, strategies evolve naturally through repeated exposure to them in shared-reading environments in which they experience a healthy balance of guided and individual practice. For others, the learning process is more contrived — strategies are explicitly taught and instruction is designed to help these readers develop metacognitive strategies.

Comprehension Instruction
  • The Report of the National Reading Panel (National Reading Panel 2000) concludes the following with regard to effective comprehension instruction:
  • Instruction can be effective in helping students develop a repertoire of strategies that promotes and fosters comprehension.
  • Strategy instruction, when integrated into subject matter learning, improves students’ comprehension of text.
  • Struggling readers benefit from explicit instruction in the use of strategies.
  • Vocabulary knowledge is strongly related to text comprehension and is especially important in teaching English-language learners.
  • Effective comprehension strategies include question generation, question answering routines, comprehension monitoring, cooperative learning, summarizing, graphic organizers, and knowledge of different text structures.
  • Students benefit from exposure to different types, or genres, of texts.
  • Teachers who provide choices, challenging tasks, and collaborative learning experiences increase students’ motivation to read and comprehend texts.

Each conclusion above supports the idea of Science Content Integration. If students are to read strategically throughout their lives, they should be adequately prepared. By practicing strategic reading throughout the school day, students are allowed to apply their developing skills.

Characteristics of Good Readers

In addition to being strategic, good readers are:

  • Active
  • Purposeful
  • Evaluative
  • Thoughtful
  • Persistent
  • Productive

In the content areas, reading is a means to an end — comprehending the text. (Vacca and Vacca 2005) Students are not focusing on learning to read, but they are reading, viewing, discussing, and writing to understand and construct knowledge in a given discipline.

Strategies of Good Readers (Duke and Pearson 2001)

  • Think about text before, during, and after reading.
  • Have clear goals in mind for reading and evaluate whether the text can meet those goals.
  • Look over the text before reading, noting such things as the structure of the text and text sections that might be most relevant to the reading goals.
  • Make predictions about what is to come.
  • Draw from, compare, and integrate prior knowledge with material in the text.
  • Adjust thinking about the text by evaluating the author’s purpose.
  • Read selectively, continually making decisions about what to read carefully, what to read quickly, what not to read, and what to reread.
  • Determine the meaning of unfamiliar words and concepts in the text.
  • Construct, revise, and question meaning during reading.
  • Stop periodically to construct and revise summaries of the material.
  • Evaluate the text’s quality and value, and react to the text both intellectually and emotionally.

Strategic reading is an important goal of Science Content Integration. If students are able to solve problems encountered in text, they can successfully comprehend on any level.


Challenging vocabulary can delay even the most accomplished reader, so quickly hurdling demanding vocabulary is imperative for each student. The sheer volume of words specific to the content areas makes it impossible to pre-teach each word and allow students time to internalize their meanings. Instead, the focus of vocabulary instruction should be instilling strategic tools to decipher meaning as troublesome words are met, without the help of a dictionary. Students should be instructed to use their dictionaries only as a last resort.

When assisting students in overcoming challenging vocabulary, teachers should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Do I pre teach words that are central to the concept or topic?
  • Am I using key words in my own speech?
  • Do I model how words work in sentences?
  • Am I helping students move partially learned words into their active vocabularies?
  • Do I offer students word-learning strategies they can use independently?
  • Am I encouraging students to read widely in my subject?

Adapted from L. Robb, Teaching Reading in Science, Social Studies, and Math.

Prompts for Unfamiliar Words

Prompts often help students determine the meanings of unfamiliar words. Some prompts for reading response journals are:

  • What aspect of the text interested you most?
  • What is your attitude about this aspect of the text?
  • What experiences have you had that might help others understand why you feel the way you do?

Context Clues

When a student is stuck on a word, teachers often ask them to go back and re-read the words around it to help decipher the troublesome word’s meaning. But context clues are not always obvious. Teachers will save time in the long run and see better results by teaching students the characteristics of the different types of clues detailed below.

A Clear Definition or Synonym

These clues are usually joined with a linking verb. Often, the author will follow the initial definition with more detailed and specific information. For example: A Labrador retriever is a dog.

Concrete Examples

Concrete examples provide a reader with an example or illustration that makes a difficult concept or idea clear. The example might be found in the same sentence or the sentences before or after. Signal words to look for are: such as, for example, are examples of, other examples, including, for instance, and to illustrate. For example: Air pollution causes harm to the environment. Car exhaust and fumes from oil refineries, burning trash, and cigarette smoke are all examples of air pollution.

Contrast Clues

At times, authors will contrast a word with an antonym. For example: Unlike evergreen trees, deciduous trees drop their leaves each year.

Words or Phrases that Modify an Unfamiliar Word

Sometimes adjectives, adverbs, or relative clauses contain clues to a word’s meaning. Some signal words are: who, which, that, whose, or whom. For example: The tree is dormant, which means “not active” or “asleep.”

Conjunctions that Connect Relationships and Ideas

Conjunctions can show relationships between words and allow a reader to link ideas. Some signal words are: and, but, or, nor, for, yet, if, since, even though, just as, when, whenever, until, although, and because. For example: This bioluminescence, or light, helps them find food or confuse prey.

Repetition of a Word

Authors often repeat unfamiliar words, allowing the reader multiple opportunities to construct meaning. For example: Mammals include dogs, tigers, and humans. Mammals have lungs and breathe air. Mammals are warm-blooded. Mammals give birth to live young and nurse their babies with milk. Mammals have hair on their bodies.

Connecting to Readers’ Prior Knowledge

Authors often use common experiences as scaffolding for less familiar ones. Good readers use what they already know to determine meanings of unknown words. For example: When you pick a piece of lint off your sweater, brush some dirt off your jeans, or smooth the wrinkles out of your shirt, be glad you don’t have to preen yourself with a beak as penguins do.

Writing Connections

There is no better way to think about a subject than to have the occasion to read and write about it.

—Vacca and Vacca

Content-area instruction also provides a prime opportunity for meaningful writing. When students are able to organize their thoughts on a given topic or situation, they comprehend on a deeper level. Writing connections in the content areas have generally taken the form of written reports presented orally. With the technology available today, however, the sky is the limit! Students should be encouraged to work with all available resources to share the information they have learned with classmates.


Students should be encouraged to write and design a computer-generated book that includes drawings, photos, charts, graphs, or other illustrative material. Teachers can provide a list of text features and structures that students can refer to or use different types of science books as models.


With help from older peers or parent volunteers, students can utilize a word-processing program and hand-drawn or computer-generated graphics to create informational brochures for inventions, habitats, constellations, archaeological sites, and other science topics they have studied.

Digital Scrapbook

Students can record experiments using a digital camera to capture images of the materials, procedures, and results, and then add captions to tell the story of the testing process. Again, parent volunteers and older peers can assist in this process.

Reading Response Journal

A response journal documents a reader’s thoughts and feelings while reading a text. The journal provides opportunities for a student to internalize the concepts in a given content area and often becomes a springboard for discussion. Although it is important to allow students to respond freely, some often need guidance. For example, in a science class, a teacher might ask students to write a journal entry from the point of view of boiling water. The responses would provide insight into the students’ understanding of the change from liquid to gas.