How to connect writing and science? Both are important areas for learning for students of all ages. At the same time that you teach one, you might look for opportunities to reinforce learning in the other.
The website of the publisher of my new nonfiction picture book, Mighty Mole and Super Soil (ages 4-9), features an article with activities related to the book (including making a dirt cake) and Common Core-related projects.
Here are two activities that connect writing with science:
DIRT LETTERS: The United Nations named 2015 the International Year of Soils, in honor of this important resource. Soil is vital to the health of the planet, but most humans rarely think of it because they can’t see it.
Classroom discussion: Have students look around the room and out the windows and brainstorm ways that soil is important to life.
Writing: Young elementary-aged children might choose one of those ways and write and illustrate a letter thanking soil for what it has done/gives and how that particular child has benefitted. Older children might send their letters to a congressman.
Sharing: Letters might be posted on a classroom bulletin board, to help celebrate World Soil Day on December 5 (as well as the year-long celebration). Also the class as a whole might plant a seed or transplant a houseplant into a special pot so that students can feel soil and experience it through many of their senses. (Chad Wallace brings the underground world to vivid life through his illustrations for Mighty Mole and Super Soil, and students might look at them as they illustrate their letters.)
Playing with Font/Letter Shapes: Patty Arnold, the book’s designer, worked carefully with the font so that the title and words in the main story look “gritty,” as if they’re fashioned from soil. As Patty says, the shape and design of the words can help to create a picture and enhance the story. Students might make some of their words (such as “soil”) look as if they’re made of dirt, perhaps by using a brown crayon when writing that one word.
ARGUE ON PAPER: Mighty Mole and Super Soil grew out of an ongoing discussion with one of my brothers about moles. I was Team Mole, appreciating the shy mammal in our backyard. Moles mix and contribute to healthy soil. My brother was Team No Mole, irritated by the ridges and molehills in his plush lawn. He called the mole a pest! Doing the research to persuade him otherwise gave me the idea to write this book, which I dedicated to him. J
Classroom discussion: Ask students to list creatures that many people label as pests (specific types of animals or weeds, perhaps). Why are they considered pests? What do they do that disturbs humans?
Research and Prep: Ask students to each choose one of these “pests” and to research its benefits (find at least three). Then ask them to close their eyes and “become” this pesky animal or plant. What does it see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? What is its world like?
Writing: Continue to pretend to be that pesky animal or plant, and write a letter from it to someone (the world at large, an exterminator, a mole catcher, human parent, etc.) to persuade that person that it is not a pest. Why should this creature or plant NOT be destroyed or removed? Have students work in pairs to peer review one another’s work and enhance the persuasiveness.
Share: Ask for volunteers to share and encourage students to send their letters to the person or to a newspaper editor or organization.