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ScienceFix: This I Believe...Essays for Science Class

A Writing Across the Curriculum Lesson from ScienceFix
Scientific Topic: Any Students Write: a script for podcast

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this i believe...
about Science

using NPR's this i believe... essay concept to show passion about a scientific topic students have researched

This writing across the curriculum lesson was written by ScienceFix Coordinator, Yvette Deighton. Yvette believes the lesson would work well students in grades 6-12.

This lesson was proposed to ScienceFix using this template. If you have a science/mentor text lesson you'd like to have published, fill out the template and send it to Yvette Deighton, our ScienceFix Coordinator: We'll send you an NNWP Print Publication if we post your lesson here!

Lesson Overview:

Lesson Objective: This writing assignments asks students to take a stand and decide how they will make a difference based on scientific content. First students will listen to several episodes of “This I Believe,” the NPR weekly podcast where authors describe their beliefs. After students understand the structure of these podcasts, they will listen to a “Science Friday” podcast that makes them aware of a current scientific issue. Finally, students will create a "This I Believe" podcast about the topic they are studying to publish to the classroom I-Pod or webpage.

Writing skills (traits) to stress while teaching this lesson:

  • The focus trait in this writing assignment is voice; students will help their audience understand the importance of the issue through their writing's passion, word choice, and tone.
  • The support trait students will work on is organization; they will make sure their introductions hook the reader/listener and organize their writing so that their beginning is strong, the middle is bold, and the conclusion convincingly ties all the pieces together.

Materials List:

  • Several saved "This I Believe" Podcasts that would be of high interest to your students based on their content. You can subscribe for free to the weekly podcast, and have it downloaded automatically to your iTunes each week, and save episodes whose content would inspire your students. A word of advice on saving podcasts that you like and want to save: don't let them run until the very end; as soon as a podcast plays in its entirety, your iPod will erase it the next time you sync it. If you turn off the iPod before it runs to its last second, it will save on your iPod. You can also purchase any of NPR's audio CD collection from the series, which contains many of the "best of" of the series saved permanently to CD. The paperback version of the series would allow your students to follow along with the printed text as they listen.
  • A saved "Science Friday" Podcast that would be of high interest to your students based on its content. At iTunes, you can freely subscribe to this wonderful podcast that is based on current science news. Listen for an issue (global warming, recycling, saving the environment, etc.) that your students might take a stand on, and save that podcast! When Yvette taught this lesson the first time, she used Science Friday podcasts on "state of the oceans," which we've shared the archived link below.

Teacher Instructions:

Note about this lesson: When Yvette presented this lesson, she had her students write podcasts about saving the oceans. This assignment can be used with any scientific topic, but wherever possible, we have included Yvette's original links that she used when helping her students react to the topic of oceans.

Pre-step…before sharing the podcasts:   Introduce students to the concept of written voice by having them analyze three short samples of writing by three middle school students. Students can compare and contrast the three students' voice using the Venn diagram.

Emphasize that it is the words the students choose that helps the reader hear the person behind the voice, and guides the reader to feel a certain emotion after reading the writing.

Step one…sharing this i believe and Science Friday podcasts:   Students will listen to two different podcasts from the National Public Radio program “This I believe.” The essays I have chosen below are written by people who were driven to make an impact or do something extraordinary in the world. Both of these podcasts emphasize the idea that we--as individuals--can and have the responsibility to make a difference. After students have listened to the essays, they will be asked to consider how these “mentor texts” used voice to help the reader/listener feel the importance of the issue (mood) and understand their opinion (tone) and how they organized their ideas to engage and persuade the audience.

After students have been introduced to the format of the “This I Believe” essays, have them work in small groups to analyze the text (podcast) for words that helped set the mood or tone of the essays. The podcasts can be downloaded to your classroom I-pod to be played for the whole group. Use this graphic organizer to help the students record and discuss evidence of voice in the podcasts. You will also want to have available this handout of faces for students to fill out the second half of the graphic organizer.

If you have time to analyze written voice further, you might also want to find additional text samples for students to analyze for voice. For example, providing students with a poem, a letter, and a science text book could help students identify differences in mood and tone in different genres.

After students have listened to the podcasts and analyzed voice, you will want to facilitate their thinking about organization. Ask them to talk about each podcast's beginning, middle, and conclusion.

Next, in order to learn some new information for their own "This I Believe" essays about the ocean, students will listen to a podcast from Science Friday on the "State of the Oceans." Remember, you can use a Science Friday podcast on ANY subject you want your students to have strong opinions about.

The podcast Yvette used is a fairly long interview/discussion. You might want to break it up into smaller chunks. Additional time will be needed within the sequence of the lesson to allow students to research the problems in more detail. Given your unique situation, student backgrounds, and schedules this could take a few days or up to a week. You may want to support the research by bringing additional articles or other types of information in on the topic your class is studying. Use what makes sense for you and your students.

Step two…introducing student models of writing:  To give them an idea of the writing assignment at hand, in small groups, have your students read and respond to any or all of the student models that come with this lesson.  The groups should certainly talk about the voice and organization, since these are the focus of the lesson.

  • Because this is a new lesson at WritingFix, we're looking for student samples for all grade levels for this prompt!  Help us get some, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom!  Post your students' writing at this posting page for us to review.

Step three…thinking and pre-writing:  Students should now be ready to choose a specific sub-topic of the content they have been listening to on which to base their "This I Believe" essay on. Yvette's students chose specific topics about saving the ocean (over-fishing, commercial pollution, etc.) rather than taking on the entire topic.

You should have students talk with a partner(s) about what issue they will focus on to write about, and how they will take a small part in planning for the solution to their ocean dilemmas. After they have had a chance to brainstorm and reflect on this, use this essay-planning graphic organizer to have students begin thinking about their writing.

At the end of the first page, you will need to take a “break” from the pre-writing for an activity about good introductory sentences. Here is WritingFix's one-page handout on this topic: Little Red Riding Hooks. Although the examples on this handout are aimed at a fictional story, the same methods work for non-fiction and persuasive writing. Have students create eight possible leads for the topic they are writing about, share in groups, and have the group help each writer decide which method might work best for introducing their essays.

Once students have completed the graphic organizer, you will want to set some timelines for the rough drafts. You might have them use this voice drafting sheet, which will require them to re-visit the focus trait as they write.

Step four (revising with specific trait language):   To promote response and revision to students' first drafts, attach WritingFix's Revision and Response Post-it® Note-sized templates to your students' drafts.  Make sure the students rank their use of the trait-specific skills on the Post-it® Note-sized templates, which means they'll only have one "1" and one "5."   Have them commit to ideas for revision based on their Post-It rankings.  For more ideas on WritingFix's Revision & Response Post-it® Note-sized templates, click here.

Step five (editing for conventions):  After students apply their revision ideas to their drafts and re-write neatly, require them to find an editor.   If you've established a "Community of Editors" among your students, have each student exchange his/her paper with multiple peers.  With yellow high-lighters in hand, each peer reads for and highlights suspected errors for just one item from the Editing Post-it.  The "Community of Editors" idea is just one of dozens and dozens of inspiring ideas that is talked about in detail in the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Going Deep with 6 Trait Language Workbook for Teachers.

Step six (publishing out loud and on-line):   If your students had fun doing this writing, they might enjoy sharing their original podcasts whole-class or in small groups.

Do you have a recorded or written
student sample to share?

WritingFix Safely Publishes Students from Around the World! In 2008, we first began accepting students samples from teachers anywhere who use this lesson. Hundreds of new published students now go up at our site annually!

We're currently looking for student samples for all grade levels for this lesson!  Help us obtain some from your students, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom!  Samples for the lesson on this page can be posted for review at this posting site.



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