Standard Lesson

Critical Literacy in Action: Multimodal Texts on Global Warming

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 45- to 60-minute sessions
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This lesson provides a way to combine scientific topics into an English lesson. Students apply specific comprehension strategies to multimodal texts as they investigate and interrogate the effects and possible causes of global warming. Students explore global warming through a variety of photographs, diagrams, and websites. As they look at each type of media, students catalog the strengths and weaknesses of these representations before identifying comprehension strategies that can be applied across various media.

From Theory to Practice

  • Reading and designing multiple representations are at the heart of learning science.

  • Students can adapt and apply familiar comprehension strategies to multimodal texts in science, including experiments, photographs, diagrams, videos, and websites.

  • Students should become aware of the strengths and weaknesses of multiple forms of representation in conveying scientific content.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology

  • One computer with Internet access and projection capability (and optional PowerPoint software)

  • Computers with Internet access

  • Overhead projector and transparencies (optional)

  • Index cards, markers, and tape




1. Prepare PowerPoint slides or overhead transparencies of three pictures of South Cascade Glacier, Washington (taken in 1928, 1979, and 2003) and other pictures that indicate change in glaciers and ice caps over time. Appropriate pictures can be found from the following websites:

2. Make copies (one per student) of the handouts Scientific Investigations in South Cascade Glacier, Evaluating Scientific Credibility, Representing Global Warming Discussion Guide, Representing Global Warming Discussion Self-Evaluation Rubric, and Global Warming: Tying it All Together.

3. Make an overhead transparency of the handout Evaluating Scientific Credibility. Choose a website from the list of Resources to use as a model for this activity in Session 2, and familiarize yourself with the relevant features of the site.

4. Put an electronic copy of the Representing Global Warming Discussion Guide on students' computer desktops (or on a network drive with a shortcut on the desktops) so students have access to live links for the nine websites it includes. Alternatively, you could bookmark the nine websites on students' computers or create a class webpage of links to these sites.

5. If necessary, schedule time in the computer lab and reserve an overhead projector for Sessions 1, 2 and 3.

6. Decide which students will work together for the paired activities and the small-group activities, based on your estimation of which students can best support each other's comprehension and attention to the tasks.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Learn how specific comprehension strategies apply to multimodal texts in science by using and reflecting on these strategies as they read websites, scientific illustrations, photographs, and more

  • Analyze how some types of representation are better suited than others for conveying particular types of scientific content

Session 1: Introduction and Investigation into Global Warming

1. Show students the first two pictures of South Cascade Glacier, taken in 1928 and 1979, and have students apply comprehension strategies (e.g., using connections, predictions, questions, background knowledge) to these photographs as part of a whole-class discussion. Questions that may be helpful in the discussion include:

  • What are the similarities and differences between the two pictures?

  • Pretend you were a scientist studying this glacier in 1979, the year the second photo was taken. What can you infer is happening by looking at these two pictures? Why do you make that inference? What questions might you ask after viewing these photos?

  • If somebody were to take a picture of South Cascade Glacier now, about 25 years later, what do you predict that picture would look like?
Note: If students are unfamiliar with comprehension strategies, explicitly model them (e.g., through asking questions and making inferences based on background knowledge) as part of the discussion about the photographs. Furthermore, to make these comprehension strategies explicit and visible to students, use vocabulary words specific to comprehension strategies (e.g., the words connections, predictions, questions, background knowledge) as part of an ongoing effort to naturally immerse students in this vocabulary.

2. Show students the third picture of South Cascade Glacier, taken in 2003, and ask them to check their predictions from the whole-class discussion.

3. Have students work in pairs to complete the handout entitled Scientific Investigations in South Cascade Glacier. Ask a few of the pairs to share their answers with the class.

4. Show students additional pictures of glacial melting around the world and ask them to make connections from their investigations of the South Cascade Glacier to other bodies of ice. Explain that students are going to investigate the causes and effects of this phenomenon, and then see how their explanations compare to other scientists' explanations.

5. Distribute index cards and markers and ask students to write a question they want to have answered about the causes or effects of glacial melting. Have students tape their questions to a classroom wall, and explain that these questions will serve as a guide for the unit. If students have not raised the following questions, you may want to add them:

  • What would happen to the earth if all of the bodies of ice melted?

  • What would be the effects on human life if bodies of ice continued to melt?

  • Besides melting glaciers, what are other effects of increased temperatures in our planet?

  • What causes increased temperatures on the earth?

  • Is there anything we can do to prevent the glaciers from melting?
Note: Questions should remain on the wall throughout the remaining three sessions.

Session 2: Evaluating Scientific Credibility

1. Ask students to write for five minutes using the following prompt: Please describe a time you had a different opinion from someone else. After five minutes, ask a few people to share their answers. Then ask the class how, in the case of a disagreement, we can tell who is right. In some instances, of course, we may never be able to tell definitively whose opinion is "right."

2. Ask students how they think this writing prompt relates to the discipline of science. Explain that when scientists have different opinions and perspectives, it may be difficult to tell whose ideas are "right"-in other words, whose explanations most accurately fit what is actually occurring. As the class offers suggestions on how to evaluate different scientific perspectives, write a list of their answers on the board under the heading Indicators of Credibility. Students' responses might include the following:

  • You could conduct your own experiment to test the scientists' ideas.

  • You could examine the scientists' credentials.

  • You could see which perspective has the majority of scientists agreeing with it.

  • You can see if the scientists are involved in an organization with a particular bias.

  • You could check to see if the scientist cited her or his sources, explained the procedures of the experiments clearly, and so on.
3. Distribute the handout Evaluating Scientific Credibility and review the instructions. Model for students how to read and evaluate a website (e.g., where you might find the credentials of the author; how you can use headings and links to different places on the webpage to locate information). Briefly fill out an overhead transparency of the handout with students as you model your own thinking process.

4. Ask students to complete the handout as they evaluate two of the websites listed. After students have completed the first eight questions, have them discuss their answers with a partner-preferably someone who chose a different website-and then decide which position they think has more credibility.

Session 3: Introducing Multiple Representations

Ideally, for this session, each group of three or four students will have access to a computer that they can share. If this is not possible, you can show the Internet sites to the entire class on an overhead projector.

1. Distribute copies of the Representing Global Warming Discussion Guide and the Representing Global Warming Discussion Self-Evaluation Rubric.

2. Introduce the Representing Global Warming Discussion Guide, explaining that it will lead students through a process of examining, discussing, and evaluating different representations of global warming. Show students how to access the links you have provided (see Preparation, Step 4), and have students work in their assigned small groups to complete the Discussion Guide.

3. Groups that finish early can look for additional representations of global warming, then discuss these sites to determine which is their favorite and why.

4. After students have viewed and discussed the websites in their groups, hold a whole-class discussion in which students share the key insights from each of their small-group discussions.

5. Ask students to evaluate their participation in the group discussions using the Representing Global Warming Discussion Self-Evaluation Rubric.

Session 4: Global Warming Wrap-Up

Before beginning this session, tape a blank piece of paper underneath each of the questions that was posted on the wall during Session 1.

1. Distribute the Global Warming: Tying it All Together handout to students. Explain that they are going to debrief and discuss what they have learned. Ask them to choose five different questions on the wall, and using their marker, write one answer to each of the questions on the piece of paper taped underneath it. Students may not write an answer that has already been written, and if they see a long line in front of one of the questions, they should move on to another one.

2. Give students time to complete the Global Warming: Tying it All Together handout. Afterward, lead them in a whole-class discussion of their answers. Ask students to add on to their answers when they hear a classmate share a response that they hadn't thought of. For the question on comprehension strategies, you may want to make sure that students bring out the following strategies: evaluating the credibility of sources; evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of representations; predicting and checking predictions; asking questions; monitoring comprehension; rereading/reviewing; making connections to other representations and to your own experiences; discussing with others; and making inferences.


  • Have students conduct a mock trial of a hypothetical oil company, based on the premise that the oil companies are responsible for selling a deadly product, much like the successful suits brought by smokers against cigarette vendors. As part of the activity, students create multimodal representations that try to sway the jury and the judge to their side. The handouts below provide a structure and sequence for a mock trial on the topic of global warming, and they can be used either in part or in their entirety.
  • Ask students to create a publication (informational pamphlet, website, children's book, bulletin board in a local gym) that informs people about the causes of global warming and steps they can take to prevent it. Ask students to choose an audience (e.g., children at a local elementary school, adults at a local community center) and to create representations and explanations that will would interest the intended audience and make the content easy to understand. Students can use the ReadWriteThink Printing Press to publish their work.

  • Have students write a letter to the editor of a newspaper encouraging local actions that could help reduce greenhouse emissions. They can use the online Letter Generator to write and print their letters.

  • Have students work in small groups as "advisors" to state or national legislators. What legislation would they propose to reduce greenhouse emissions? Remind them that they can consider both legal prohibitions and economic incentives, and debate which would be more effective.

Student Assessment / Reflections

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