Adapted from Jennifer Altieri’s new book, Reading Science: Practical Strategies for Integrating Instruction
Although there are many science trade books available to support integrated instruction, choosing and locating them can be a challenge.
One of my favorite sources for identifying good science trade books is the Database of Award-Winning Children’s Literature, a website created by a librarian. The website allows a teacher to search over ten thousand texts through a variety of variables, such as age of reader, publication date (important to ensure up-to-date information), science topic, and awards won. You can also search for texts reflecting people of specific ethnicities or genders. This is important so that all students can see role models similar to themselves in science texts.
The next question is how to select the texts that best meet our content goals. The Science Trade Book Evaluation Guide, provided as part of Reading Science, can help you analyze the five key aspects of science trade books. This list provides a brief snapshot of each area; the Evaluation Guide goes into greater depth.
Five Tips for Choosing Science Trade Books
1. Review the science content
In science texts, we need information to be accurate. Through science texts, students can not only learn scientific information but also develop scientific misconceptions (Rice 2002). Always consider these key points:
- Does the text mention experts the author consulted and contain background information on the author?
- Look at the copyright date to ensure that current information on the topic is being shared.
- While topics may not be discussed in great detail, it is important to ensure that simplification of the topic does not result in misleading information.
- Examine both text and images in science texts to ensure that ethnic, socioeconomic status, and gender stereotypes are not present. Science texts have had a history of reinforcing stereotypes, and we want to encourage all students to engage with science.
2. Look carefully at images
Images play an important role in science texts because they convey and extend information found in the written words. Any illustrations included in text should be realistic and accurate in scale so as not to present misconceptions.
3. Determine the quality of the writing
While we want texts to use precise scientific terminology, we want to ensure that the writing isn’t dry and boring. The author should have a lively voice and include numerous examples of concepts. The presentation of content is also important. Students will encounter difficulty with text if the author’s thoughts are hard to follow.
4. Review any informational text features
Of course it’s not realistic to expect every text to contain labels, captions, sidebars, charts and keys, and a variety of other textual features. However, it is important to note the features that are found within the texts we select so that we ensure we have texts in our classroom containing a variety of features.
5. Consider the overall design
Have you ever picked up a science text with unusually small typeface covering the pages from margin to margin and black-and-white images? It probably wasn’t a text you eagerly wanted to read. Examining overall design requires us to look at the total text. Determine if the visual layout of the text will appeal to the students. Are the layout and design of the book such that kids will want to read it? Are they appropriate for the content? While not all scientific reading our students will encounter will be visually engaging, it is important for our students, who are still developing interests and learning to navigate complex text, to have the opportunity to interact with appealing books.
While students need to experience science through inquiry-based lessons, trade books can serve as an excellent way to support, reinforce, and extend our lessons (Morrison and Young 2008). Trade books expose students to scientific findings and places they can’t explore within the classroom. It isn’t realistic for us to fly our students through the solar system or take an actual look inside the human brain, but trade books can help us do that. Having tools to help us evaluate the trade books we put in front of our students helps us hone in on materials that will be most effective and enjoyable in our classrooms.
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Jennifer Altieri (@JenniferAltier1) has been a teacher, reading consultant, and is currently associate professor of literacy at Coastal Carolina University. The author of multiple books and a frequent presenter at conferences, Jennifer is passionate about developing readers, writers, and thinkers through content literacy.