Standard Lesson

Integrating Literacy Into the Study of the Earth's Surface

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Seven 45-minute sessions
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Science trade books are an invaluable tool for supporting science learning with literacy. This lesson introduces third- through fifth-grade students to the bodies of water on the Earth's surface, including ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans. Five suggested titles form the basis for the five initial lessons, which include read-alouds, discussion, and science journals. The class also creates a science word wall incorporating new vocabulary from each of the books. Teams of students then compose and perform Readers Theatre scripts based on each of the titles, allowing for a comparative study of the different bodies of water.

From Theory to Practice

  • Science is one area where many teachers are uncomfortable in their knowledge of the subject area. Many elementary teachers are intimidated by science (Gallas, 1995), and too often settle for the teacher demonstrating an experiment that students witness with little or no involvement (Pearce, 1999).

  • Reading receives more instructional time than any other area (Hein and Sabra, 1994), while science is often offered the least amount of instructional time. Teachers may feel more comfortable supporting science instruction if they have concrete means for integrating science with everyday literacy instruction.

  • Student-centered discussions in the area of science and scientific inquiry are very important to science learning in the elementary classroom (Reddy et al., 1998). These instructional conversations promote the kinds of rich discussions that help students develop their ideas along with linguistic competence (Goldenberg, 1993).

  • Science talk can readily be supported through reading. During DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time students can be encouraged to read science trade books. Literature circles can provide a good avenue for science discussions, with students reading and talking about a particular scientific topic.

  • Dialogue journals are also an important tool in supporting science instruction, as students are encouraged to engage in meaningful discourse about scientific activity (Reddy et al., 1998). These journals can be a source for students' observations and reflections. This form of writing is crucial to developing scientific habits of mind, in which students are learning to link their observations to developing theories.

  • Readers Theatre, in which students interpret literature by reading and acting out scripts adapted from an original story, could be extended to include ecomysteries, stories in which the mystery revolves around an ecological problem, written by students in the classroom (George, 1996; Pearce, 1999).


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.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Pond by Gordon Morrison (Houghton Mifflin, 2002)
  • Salmon Stream by Carol Reed-Jones (Dawn Publications, 2001)
  • River of Life by Debbie S. Miller (Clarion Books, 2000)
  • Salamander Rain: A Lake and Pond Journal by Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini (Dawn Publications, 2001)
  • The Kingfisher Young People's Book of Oceans by David Lambert (Kingfisher, 2001)
  • Clipboards, paper, and pencils
  • Tape
  • Index cards
  • Science journals for students



1. Gather the books listed in the Materials & Technology section.

  • Pond by Gordon Morrison focuses on a glacial pond and the abundance of plants and animals that draw life from it during the year.

  • Salmon Stream by Carol Reed-Jones follows the life cycle of the salmon from hatching upstream, to life in the ocean, to eventually making a hazardous journey home to their stream of origin.

  • River of Life by Debbie S. Miller describes a river in Alaska, emphasizing how living things connect and depend upon the river for their survival.

  • Salamander Rain: A Lake and Pond Journal by Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini is the journal and scrapbook of Klint, a young Planet Scout, who keeps notes of the turtles, crayfish, dragonflies, and other creatures living in the lakes and ponds in his neighborhood.

  • The Kingfisher Young People's Book of Oceans by David Lambert presents information about the world's oceans; how they were formed, their geology, tides, life forms, and coasts.
2. Have available clipboards, paper, and pencils for generating word lists. You should also have index cards and tape available for students to write words on the cards and tape them to the word wall.

3. Create a science word wall with the following headings:

  • Pond

  • Stream

  • River

  • Lake

  • Ocean
4. Provide each student with a science journal.

5. Divide the class into four or five teams to prepare and perform the Readers Theatre. There are a number of flexible grouping options from which to choose. Knowing your students and the ways they learn best will help you determine which grouping to use.

  • Random. This is an arbitrary way to assemble students. It can be done in a variety of ways, such as by picking names from a hat. Random grouping is effective when forming groups of equal size or when you would like students to get to know one another.

  • Social or cooperative. This grouping combines students with specific social skills, such as leaders and followers, when they need to function in these different roles. Students learn different roles from one another and can work together to complete a group task.

  • Interest. You can assign students to a group based on their interest in a topic, such as a favorite animal. Use this grouping when students' interest is the main motivation for learning about a topic.

  • Task. Group together those students who are successful at completing certain types of activities. For example, when having students dramatize a story, ask those who are artistic to paint a theatrical backdrop and those with musical talent to play instruments.

  • Knowledge of subject. Group together students with knowledge of a certain subject or hobby when you want them to recognize similarities among one another and share information.

  • Skill or strategy. Group together students who need help with a particular skill or strategy.

  • Student choice. Allow students to group themselves according to a category, such as author or genre. You can use this approach when you want to create literature response groups in which students take the lead.
6. Review each of the links listed under Websites. You may choose to use the information from these websites during your initial discussions about each body of water in Sessions 1-5, or have students access them when researching and preparing their Readers Theatre scripts. Make sure that these Web resources are appropriate for your students and find alternatives if necessary. You may want to bookmark selected websites on your classroom or lab computers for students to be able to access easily during the lesson.

7. Students should be familiar with Readers Theatre prior to beginning this lesson. If they need an introduction or additional practice, you may use the lesson "Readers Theatre." Other helpful websites that offer information about Readers Theatre include:

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Gain knowledge of the different bodies of water on the Earth's surface by listening to science trade books read aloud and reading these books independently during DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time

  • Develop new vocabulary by choosing and discussing content area words from the trade books to include on a word wall

  • Construct their understanding and ideas about a scientific topic by participating in whole-class and small-group discussions

  • Engage in meaningful discourse about a scientific topic by writing in a dialogue journal about their observations, reflections, and theories and then sharing and discussing their journal entries with classmates

  • Interpret what they have learned about the bodies of water on the Earth's surface by writing and performing a Readers Theatre

Sessions 1–5: Read-aloud of Science Trade Books

1. Gather students as a whole class to listen and observe while you read the book Pond by Gordon Morrison.

Before reading, ask students what they already know about a pond. What is a pond? Have they ever seen a pond? Where are ponds usually located? What lives in a pond?

2. After reading, have students generate a list of words found in the book that describe the features of a pond. Students will add these words to the word wall under the heading "Pond" (see Preparation, Step 3).

3. Lead a class discussion as to why these words were chosen by the author to describe a pond. Then, together with students, reread the book, stopping at each word on the word wall and having students discuss why the author chose that word. Students lead this discussion by comparing the words to the factual information they have learned about a pond.

4. Have each student write an entry in his or her science journal detailing the features of a pond. Students should write about their observations, drawing upon the vocabulary the author uses in the book read aloud. Encourage students to also include firsthand observations if they have ever seen a pond. Where was the pond located? What did they see there? What kinds of creatures did they see inhabiting the pond? What were the conditions of the water? Students will share their journal writing with their groups each day.

5. Repeat steps 1-4 in each session using a science trade book about a different body of water for the read-aloud (see Preparation, Step 1). Depending on the topic of the book, students will continue to generate a list of words for each of the headings on the word wall (i.e., streams, rivers, lakes, oceans). Lead a class discussion about the words, and have students write entries about the topics in their science journals.

Note: Vary the introduction to each body of water by comparing the previous body of water taught to the next in a review context, by asking questions so as

  • What did we learn about ponds?

  • What were the features used to characterize a pond?

  • What types of creatures live in or near a pond?

  • What do you think will be different in a stream?

Session 6: Comparative Study Using Readers Theatre

1. Write the names of the different bodies of water (i.e., ponds, streams, rivers, lakes, oceans) on index cards and mix them up in a fish bowl.

2. Divide the class into teams of four or five members each (see Preparation, 5).

3. Have each team choose a team leader who will select one of the index cards from the fish bowl.

4. Explain to students that as a team they should review the trade book read in class (in Sessions 1-5), the word wall, and their science journal entries for the body of water they selected. If students are skilled at researching on the Web, you may also direct them to the sites listed in Websites as an option for gathering new information about their selected body of water.

5. They should then create a Readers Theatre script describing the features of their selected topic without revealing its name (see Preparation, Step 6).

6. Explain the Readers Theatre Rubric, which will be used to assess each performance. Discuss with students each criterion on the rubric and the expectations to be met for each rating.

7. Encourage teams to practice performing their Readers Theatre in preparation for Session 7.

Session 7: Readers Theatre Performances

1. Invite each team to perform their Readers Theatre script for the class.

2. After the performance, ask the class to guess which body of water was being presented.

3. Lead the class in a culminating discussion of each performance and a review of each body of water on the Earth's surface and its criteria for classification.


Gather a collection of nonfiction texts about this topic and other related topics (see the books listed in Materials and Technology) to keep in your classroom library. These books can be used during DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time or for informal reading.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Assessment can be done informally through anecdotal notes and observations during each of the sessions. Use the initial class discussions in Sessions 1–5 about the different bodies of water and compare them with the discussions students have at the end of Session 7. Are they able to use the new vocabulary in the culminating discussion and express their understanding of the features of the different bodies of water?

  • Evaluate the students' science journal entries for details and accuracy about the features of each body of water.

  • Use the Readers Theatre Rubric to evaluate each group's script and performance. Students will be graded individually and as a group.


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