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  • Using science as the context to teach literacy skills enables teachers to create cross-curricular opportunities – and create valuable teaching space within a crowded curriculum.

    Rights: Private collection

    Connecting literacy and science

    There are numerous cross-overs between English and science curriculum objectives. Science is an ideal context in which to teach literacy skills.

    The focus of literacy is to produce competent oral, written and visual communicators. It underpins all learning areas of the curriculum. The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) notes that language is central to learning and that the importance of literacy cannot be overstated. The NZC also notes that each learning area has its own language.

    Connecting the English and science strands

    There are commonalities within the English and science strands in the curriculum. With thoughtful planning, educators can integrate science with literacy to enhance learning in both areas.

    For example, the English and science curriculum strands:

    • encourage the reader to explore how texts are shaped for different purposes and audiences
    • encourage the writer to use particular conventions to shape texts for different purposes and audiences
    • promote the understanding and use of topic-specific vocabulary
    • promote the choice of vocabulary to communicate precise meaning.

    Shared strategies for making meaning

    English literacy and science also share a set of core strategies for making meaning. Shared strategies include:

    • activating students’ prior knowledge to develop and make sense of new and more complex text and/or subject matter
    • making and reviewing predictions
    • making connections and recognising relationships
    • acquiring information
    • solving problems
    • drawing inferences and conclusions.

    Make it explicit

    Whether engaging students from a literacy or a science approach, it is important to be explicit. For example, the activity Newsboard for science uses a shared reading process in which students are prompted to think scientifically (making observations, inferences and predictions) while actively building literacy skills (examining surface features).

    Another example, Science and literacy – using Fred the Thread explores writing for purpose and audience, drawing comparisons between texts (a Seuss-like poem and a science article) and examining the physical structures of a poem.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Fred the Thread – a poem

    Dr Robert Hoare reads a poem he wrote about the native moth (Houdinia flexilissima), whose larva is known as Fred the Thread.

    Oral and visual language

    Science topics also create opportunities to explore the speaking, writing and presenting strand of the English curriculum. Vocabulary, text conventions and organising and sequencing ideas are integral to the planning and presentation of video or live productions. This type of activity can also serve as a cross-curricular formative or summative assessment tool.

    The activity Seed dispersal puppet play provides pedagogical suggestions and planning and storyboard templates. The handouts are in Word and can be edited to suit a different topic, method of presentation or planning strategy. Students from Long Bay Primary School combine several aspects of cross-curricular learning in a video that retells a Māori legend about the creation of Auckland’s volcanic field. The video has an accompanying transcript that features content vocabulary, text conventions and more.

    Literacy in science

    Literacy in science focuses on the literacy skills needed for science communication and to access science understandings. Though these skills often overlap with English literacy skills, science texts offer a few challenges.

    Science texts often use unfamiliar words. Some of the words are specific to a particular scientific field. For example, the term ‘electromagnetism’ is specific to physics, while the term ‘igneous’ is specific to geology. Students are unlikely to encounter these words outside of science contexts. There are also general words, such as ‘family’ and ‘organic’, that have different meanings when used in science. Defining and discussing both technical and general words can be helpful.

    Science texts also tend to focus on a subject or process, present information in a logical order and squeeze a lot of information into a short length of text. That’s much like the sentence you’ve just read! Again, it can be helpful to explicitly analyse a piece of scientific text, examining its structural and language features just as you would poetic verse.

    Language and science

    ‘Using language, symbols and texts’ is one of the five key competencies listed in the New Zealand Curriculum. Language also features in the nature of science strand ‘Communicating in science’. The science capability ‘Interpret representations’ mentions written texts as well as diagrams, charts and graphs. Language is an integral part of science, and science offers authentic and diverse contexts to explore language and literacy.

    Consider the image below: the topic-specific vocabulary, how it was created for a particular purpose and audience and the cross-curricular opportunities it creates.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    The causes and impacts of climate change

    This word picture uses word association to describe the causes and impacts of climate change.

    Connected and Applications journals

    The New Zealand Ministry of Education publishes two journal series with a specific focus on science and scientific literacy. Connected is aligned to curriculum levels 2, 3 and 4. Applications is aligned to curriculum levels 5 and 6.

    The Hub is partnering with Connected to feature selected articles. We suggest Hub resources that support a more detailed understanding of underlying science concepts and activities to support student learning. Check out our entire range of Connected articles here. We’ve curated them by topic and concepts.

    Rights: Illustration by Scott Pearson, Crown copyright 2017

    Connected article: Testing the waters

    An article in the 2017 level 3 Connected journal ‘Mahi tahi’ published by the Ministry of Education, New Zealand.

    We’ve compiled lists of Connected and School Journal series, along with supporting Hub resources on the following topics:

    Related content

    The Hub's glossary feature gives easy access to terms and definitions useful in scaffolding science education. This resource gives some extra tips for its use.

    The topic literacy through science curates activities that have strong literacy components.

    Words can have different meanings when used in science. Many of our Hub topics have accompanying alternative conceptions articles that highlight content vocabulary that often causes confusion.

    Check out these ready-to-use cross-curricular teaching resources. Each resource has literacy, maths and science activities.

    Infographics use images and text to promote science communication. This article explains how they are developed, and this activity helps students interpret the information in an infographic, discern its purpose and discuss how it gets the message across.

    Looking for an engaging science book to add to your next teaching plan/topic? We have created a curation of ones we like in our Pinterest board here.

    Sharing scientific understanding through poetry encourages students to combine artistic expression with scientific understanding.

    Professional learning development

    The Hub has professional development webinars:

    Useful link

    The Education Gazette article Introducing Connected a print + digital resource provides background information about Connected digital functions and format.

      Published 12 February 2019 Referencing Hub articles
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