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Writing In Science

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“Writing about science concepts and scientific thinking provides students with the opportunity to engage in thinking and types of expository writing that they typically do not encounter at other times in the school day.” –Writing in Science by Betsy Rupp Fulwiler

Connections to Other Literacy Strands

WRITING in science is interdependent with the other literacy strands of reading, speaking and listening, and language.

READING is connected to informational and expository writing in science. Research is extended to print and digital resources, and further investigations as needed.

SPEAKING AND LISTENING is highlighted when students discuss ideas with a partner, in small groups, with the whole class, and engage in self-talk as they make meaning of new science ideas. Students reference their notebooks as evidence to support their thinking. Students transform their talk into notebook entries, including drawings, narratives, and charts. Discussions using their notebooks allow students to make sense of their thinking, share ideas with others, and receive feedback.

LANGUAGE learning occurs best when the learning context matches a functional context. Notebooks provide students an authentic place to practice using language functions in order to express their ideas, communicate with others, and show understanding of content using a range of specific functions such as describing, comparing and contrasting, and classifying. Science notebooks allow for the use of informal language and the connection to formal scientific vocabulary once learned in context. Notebooks should not become a place where students copy vocabulary words along with their definitions.

Why is Writing in Science Important?

  • Notebooks are an essential component in the scientific and engineering community. One of the goals in maintaining science notebooks, in addition to exploring scientific content and literacy, is to replicate the work that scientists and engineers do.
  • The use of notebooks support the development of reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language.
  • Science notebooks contain the raw material for other kinds of writing. The process of writing for a broader audience helps students clarify and deepen their understanding of science concepts.
  • Inquiry-based science provides an authentic context for student writing. When they use their own data gathered in investigations and recorded in notebooks as the basis for some of their informal writing, students have ownership of process and content.

“When students write and share responses… it makes the thinking of all the scientists in the room available to everyone. It gives students new ways of thinking about and doing science, and provides an opportunity for them to assess their own understanding of the inquiry process.” –Five Good Reasons to Use Science Notebooks by Joan Gilbert and Marleen Kotelman

Science Notebooks

The primary goal of using science notebooks is to build a deeper understanding of science content - it is important that this remains the goal and that writing elements do not get in the way of this learning.

Inquiry-based science provides an authentic context for student writing.

Notebooks are a tool for students to construct conceptual understanding. They become a written record of thinking that students can reference to see how their thinking changes over time. Students also record their questions. These wonderings can lead to new investigations. Critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication are college and career readiness skills that are supported with the use of science notebooks.

Student notebooks can be used as formative assessment tools that allow teachers to adapt instruction based on individual student needs and trends seen across the class.

“Writing in science does more than provide a record of investigations and a way of collecting data for analysis and interpretation. Writing is a way into thinking science. While writing, child-scientists not only recount what they observed and did, but they also question, make connections, interpret, confirm or revise explanations, and plan next steps. As teachers, we can provide children with a framework for science writing, prompt them to push their thinking, and model how teacher-scientists write and use writing to think about and understand science.” –Science Workshop by Wendy Saul

Thinking Work

Student notebooks should reflect pre-existing knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes. Prior knowledge prompts enables students and the teacher to better understand student thinking at the beginning of a learning experience. Early notebook entries can be compared with later entries to understand growth and change in thinking.

Students gather information from a variety of sources to get a complete and accurate picture of an area of interest. Students should use their notebooks to record data/information for analysis as well as to support their thinking. Data or information can take many forms (observational, qualitative, quantitative, etc.). Students express their understanding of the data they have gathered. They can compare and contrast what they are thinking with their prior knowledge, as well as try to make sense of information from a variety of resources (e.g., experiment, reading, discussion). Students can refer back to their data as evidence to support claims.

Notebooks provide a place for connecting new information to prior knowledge. Students use their notebooks to analyze how they came to their current thinking. They connect their prior knowledge with their new understanding. They express ideas of which they are certain, and write questions about ideas on which they are still pondering.

Reasons to Revisit Work in a Notebook

Scientists and engineers keep notebooks on their work because they need them for their work.

Ways in which students can use their notebooks for their work in class:

  • Review what they did the day or week before as an introduction to the day’s work
  • Review their notebook and choose one idea or question to talk about with a partner
  • Organize their data to share with the class
  • Review their thinking from a week ago and reflect on how it has changed
  • Check back on a procedure to see why their results differ from the results of another group Write a synthesis, conclusion, or report

“Ultimately notebooks should focus on students’ understanding of the science concepts and result in students viewing and using the notebook as scientists would, which means they refer back to the information within it as they develop explanations or argue ideas.” –Science Notebooks as Learning Tools by Lori Fulton

Notebooks Support Formal Writing

Science notebooks contain the raw material for other kinds of writing. The process of writing for a broader audience helps students clarify and deepen their understanding of science concepts.

Science notebooks provide a safe space for authentic practice with written language. Students can then formalize their writing and synthesize their thinking in order to share it with others.

When students use their own data gathered in investigations and recorded in notebooks as the basis for some of the writing, students have ownership of process and content.

A science notebook is informal and meant to support each individual student. Students can enter formal writing process during literacy to expand, revise, and create products.

Writing in science provides an authentic context for students to practice narrative and informational or explanatory writing in a nonfiction format.

“Writing in science is not only for communicating with others; it is a tool for learning that supports scientists and students alike in clarifying thinking, synthesizing ideas, and coming to conclusions.” –The Essentials of Science and Literacy by Karen Worth


Additional Resources

For more information about using science notebooks, visit: