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Ministry of Education.

Module 4 - Science and subject area literacy

What are the goals for this module?

  • To illustrate how you can use subject area literacy teaching and learning activities in science.
  • To help you develop your learning inquiry by identifying opportunities to observe and analyse what is happening in your classroom.

There are 6 parts:

Part A: Integrating subject area literacy activities into a science unit

The literacy demands of a science unit

The unit is called Genetics and Variation.  Genetics and Variation (PDF 144KB)

In the unit, students are asked to read ‘Chapter 13-2 Genes at Work’,  Genes at Work Chapter 13-2 (PDF 2MB) from Hook, P., Stannard, P., & Williamson, K. (1999). Science World 10 for the New Zealand Curriculum. pp. 270-272. Auckland: Macmillan.

To successfully complete this unit, students need to:

  • understand unfamiliar science phenomena, processes, and events from reading information-dense texts
  • work out the meaning of science vocabulary, learn meanings, and use the vocabulary in writing
  • understand concepts that are explained through a combination of paragraphs, captions, and diagrams (text features)
  • develop and communicate understandings through writing.

Part B: Learning about text types

Why would you choose to focus on learning about text types?

Science textbooks often contain a lot of information in a confined space. They frequently contain more than one text type within sections and chapters.

For example, the ‘Chapter 13-2 Genes at Work’,  Genes at Work Chapter 13-2 (PDF 2MB) includes an explanation and instructions. These two text types need to be read quite differently.

What teaching is needed?

Once you and your students are familiar with the different text types and how to go about reading them, teaching should become a very brief part of any lesson with new text.

Introduce the ‘Chapter 13-2 Genes at Work’,  Genes at Work Chapter 13-2 (PDF 2MB) by identifying the different text types within the chapter. For example:

  • There is an anecdote at the start. It is fiction and intended to hook the reader’s interest by providing a real life context.
  • The explanation contains a lot of information in the paragraphs, diagrams, and text boxes.

In the activity, the students must read each instruction carefully. The steps need to be followed in order and they will need to keep referring back to them as they complete each step.

You will need to have questions ready that can help the students to identify and respond differently to the text types:

  • What types of text can you see here?
  • What can you recognise about these text types?
  • How are these pages structured?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the purpose of the text?
  • Where is the most important information?
  • How should you go about reading them?

What are you looking for?

Look for students who are able to articulate their understanding of text types, features, and purposes. Notice when they answer questions accurately.

Next steps

Introduce new text types that your students will read in science. Continue to discuss text types as students encounter new texts, for example, news articles, websites.

Part C: Learning to preview (read) text feature information

Why would you choose to focus on learning to preview text feature information?

Using text features (for example, headings, illustrations) to provide information about the content will help students to:

  • build knowledge of the topic
  • locate the information they need
  • give them confidence to start reading. (This is especially important if you have  profile 1 students in your class.)

What teaching is needed?

Model how to preview information from text features. Use these questions and answers to guide your teaching:

Q: If you read all the information in the text features, what do you know about the topic already?

A: It will tell me how the genes in the chromosomes of fish determine the skin colour. It shows that there is a gene on each chromosome of the pair of chromosomes that determines colour. One of the genes is dominant and one is recessive. The babies’ genes come from the parents. Some babies get a combination of genes that gives them a red colour, but more babies get a combination of genes that gives them a black colour. This is because the gene for black colour is dominant.

Q: Why has the author used these text features?

A: To give the reader a better understanding of genes. For example, in the diagrams you can see what they mean by the different combinations. It would be harder to write that in paragraphs.

Q: Which text features tell you the most important ideas?

A: The title, diagrams, and the captions. Often the pictures on their own don’t tell you very much.

Q: How could you use text features to make sure you have understood what you’ve read in the paragraphs?

A: You read the diagrams and captions, then read the paragraphs and look back at the diagrams to see if what you think is right, makes sense.

What are you looking for?

Look for previews that include all the important information from the text features. Students should begin by writing these so you can see they are making sense of the information by combining and linking ideas. When they have more experience, students will begin to preview in their head as preparation for reading new texts.

Next steps

Use previews to analyse text features in a range of science texts.

Part D: Working out, learning, and using science vocabulary

Why would you choose to focus on working out, learning, and using science vocabulary?

Science uses vocabulary and language that many students may not understand. However, it is often possible for them to work out the meanings using vocabulary problem solving clues.

What teaching is needed?

Identify and use science vocabulary

Introduce important science vocabulary and language, and provide opportunities for students to use it in their reading and writing.

Effective Literacy Strategies in Years 9 to 13  Effective Literacy Strategies in Years 9 to 13 pages 44-45 (PDF 130KB) describes strategies that can help students recall and use new vocabulary.

Clues for problem solving

Teach the clues for problem solving and provide opportunities for practice. Provide instructions (verbal and written) that contain different types of clues.

Using the sentence definition (This is very common in science.). “The physical characteristics of an organism, or what it looks like, is called its phenotype.”

  • What does phenotype mean in this sentence?
  • How did you work that out?
  • Are there other words or phrases that you can work out in the same way?

“The fish with genotype BB is said to be homozygous, or a pure breeder, because both genes for skin colour are the same.”

  • What does homozygous mean?
  • How did you work that out?

Using context clues in science. “The gene for red colour, which is masked by the dominant gene, is called the recessive gene.”

  • What does recessive mean in this sentence?
  • Can you use the information around it to help? It is the gene that is masked by the dominant one.

“What is a Punnett square?”

  • You can use the textbox information, the paragraphs, and the diagram. All of these context pieces can be used to work out the meaning.

Using morphemic clues


  • What does genotype mean?
  • Are there any words or parts of words in this unfamiliar word that could help you work out what it might mean (gene, type)?
  • Does that make sense when you read the sentence definition?


  • What does offspring mean?
  • Are there any words or parts of words in this unfamiliar word that could help you work out what it might mean (off, spring)?
  • In this context, if you put these two parts of the word together, what do they mean?

What are you looking for?

Look for fewer requests from students to explain word meanings as students become more familiar with the vocabulary used in science. Notice an increased use of these words in quickwrites and other writing tasks.

Next steps

Continue to ask students “How did you work that out?”.

Part E: Making connections in texts

Why would you choose to focus on making connections in texts?

The science textbook, like many science texts, uses a combination of text features (for example, diagrams and tables) and paragraph writing to explain information.

Many students are unaware that they need to read and combine information from all the sources to help them understand the information. This is a more difficult skill, but very important in science in years 9–13.

What teaching is needed?

Finding literal information

Ask students questions that require them to find literal information. Explain that sometimes it is possible to read and easily find the item of information required to answer a question or learn something new. It might be bolded or at the start of a paragraph or even be a number or fact that stands out or is shown on a diagram.

Ask students to read ‘Chapter 13-2 Genes at Work’,  Genes at Work Chapter 13-2 (PDF 2MB) and answer the following questions. Follow up by asking students how they worked out the answer.

  • What is a dominant gene?
  • How do you represent genes?
  • In these fish, how many genes on a chromosome control colour?

Combining and synthesising many pieces of information

In order to understand more complex ideas, concepts, and processes, the author needs readers to locate and gather relevant information from several places in the text, then to combine these ideas together to create the answer. This is what a reader does to synthesise information.

Model this process to begin with. It may be useful for students to make notes about key pieces of information as they read.

Ask students to read ‘Chapter 13-2 Genes at Work’  Genes at Work Chapter 13-2 (PDF 2MB) and answer the following question.

  • Q: If you get half of your genes from your mother and half from your father, why don’t you have half your mother’s features and half your father’s features?

Explain that first you need to think about what the question asks.

  • It asks you to answer the second part.

Next look for information about how the mother’s genes and father’s genes combine.

  • For each characteristic, there is one gene from each parent. (See the diagrams on page 271)
  • The characteristic that you end up with depends on the combination of the genes you get from each parent.
  • Each parent has two genes for each characteristic, one in each chromosome pair. Each offspring only receives one of these two genes from each parent. (See figure 18)
  • Genes are dominant or recessive with dominant genes masking recessive genes. (See paragraphs and diagram on page 270)
  • If you get two recessives genes for the same characteristic, this can make you look different from both parents. (See the red fish)

What are you looking for?

Look for students who are increasingly able to understand, find, and use information from the text. Notice when they explain the process of combining and synthesising by answering questions such as: “How did you get that?” and “What pieces of information told you that?”.

Next steps

Keep teaching this skill using other texts. Ask the question: “What pieces of information did you combine to get this information?”

Part F: Quickwrites

Why would you choose to focus on quickwrites?

Quickwriting is a form of note making that helps students to remember what they know and understand.

Quickwrites support students to:

  • focus on their science learning
  • build their fluency in writing – important for writing answers to science questions
  • think about and learn new information
  • learn and use specific science vocabulary
  • think about and develop ideas before taking part in group discussion.

Quickwrites can also provide ongoing information about students’ developing understanding of science concepts and use of science specific vocabulary.

What teaching is needed?

Give students a short amount of time to write their reactions, feelings, and ideas in response to prompts. These can be specific or generic, for example:

  • What do genes do?
  • Which characteristics do you think you have inherited from your parents? Don’t forget to say why.
  • Explain why it is important for scientists to understand how genes work.

Quickwrites can be more open-ended. You might ask students to write about something they have just learned in class and how this has helped their learning, or a science concept that they find challenging.

What are you looking for?

Module 2 Part C will help you see how you can use the quickwrites as effective “of the moment” evidence of learning. ( The New Zealand Curriculum).

Next steps

Continue to use quickwrites. Ask students to design the prompts and highlight the science vocabulary they have used.

Published on: 09 May 2016