Sneaking in Science in Primary Grades

Ever feel like all you teach in your kinder or first grade classroom is reading?  Like you can’t even start to think about doing that cool science experiment you saw on Pinterest because…ain’t nobody got time for that?

The struggle is real in the primary grades, ya’ll.  Our teacher hearts want so badly to teach science and social studies content and the kids WANT to learn about animals and inventors and do science experiments.  But reality hits, and we are pressured into making sure those little babies know their letters and can read and write and add and subtract so they can pass state tests.  It’s super easy to fall into the trap of reading, writing, and arithmetic all. day. long. in the primary grades.

But let’s face it…that can get pretty boring after a while.  So, what can we do about it?  I’ve been teaching content to my first graders for 10 years and watching the engagement and excitement in my classroom during science and social studies made me stick my foot down and refuse to compromise and give up content in my primary classroom!  Read 6 ways I teach content in my primary classroom without compromising the reading and writing rigor!

1. Trade Books

Integrate, Integrate, Integrate.  I’m always looking for ways to “kill two birds with one stone” in the classroom because of time.  Integration is the best way to double up your teaching standards.  So, I’m always looking for ways to integrate content into literacy.

It’s easy to read non-fiction books, but it takes a little more planning to align the non-fiction books we are reading in the classroom with the science or social studies standards we need to cover.  More planning means thinking about the content first.  Do my kids need to learn about animal classification, or people in history?  Once I decide my content area, I can choose non-fiction and fiction books to support the content.

Non-fiction books are obvious… For example, if I’m learning about animal groups, I want to find content books that will teach about characteristics of mammals or birds or another animal group.

Fiction books are a little trickier.  But, I love to find good fiction texts to use during reading or for read alouds during our units.  So, if we go back to animals, I can pull fiction stories with animal characters in them.  We can contrast the attributes of these animals (they wear clothes, talk, personification, etc) to the attributes of animals in real life.  This expands my first graders’ understanding because it helps them see what isn’t true about animals…and it shows them in a new context!

In each of my 6 integrated units, I have suggested fiction and non-fiction read alouds that connect with the content for each unit already planned out for you!

2.  Writing Prompts

Integrate, Integrate, Integrate…have I already said that? 🙂 But seriously, I plan how to integrate in reading first.  Then, once I have a good list of non-fiction and fiction texts for read alouds, I work on writers’ workshop.  There are a couple of questions to consider when I’m deciding how to integrate content into writing…

What type of writing fits best with this content?  If we are learning new content, I can work on shared research during our read aloud…simply picking out important facts and charting them.  There’s my content, but it’s under the umbrella of my “writing time.”  After our shared research, I can focus on informational or expository writing.  Once my students are comfortable with the new content, I can even bring in opinion writing…like do you prefer mammals or birds?  Who was more important…Ben Franklin or Thomas Edison?

What characteristics of my mentor texts can I use to help my young writers?  When we read texts with lots of bold print, we talk about that feature during reading and then, we go a little deeper during writers’ workshop and try to include bold print in our own writing to teach our readers more about those “smart words.”  (Read more here.)  This is an especially powerful way to give young writers a purpose for writing and small attainable goals that help them feel like a “real author!”

3.  Reading Stations

Integrate, integrate, integrate….okay, okay, I know that I’ve said this already, but seriously, ya’ll.  Integration is my BFF in the classroom.  This is the 3rd time I’ve mentioned it in this post already, which means I’m teaching the same content 3 different times during the day without ever setting aside a devoted “Science” or “Social Studies” block during my day!  If you’re like me and time is precious in the classroom, then this is BIG TIME!  It seems so obvious, yet it can be so easy to get in the routine of teaching the day to day stuff without any content.  All it takes is a few minutes to purposefully plan out content that needs to be covered and how you can use reading and writing to support that content!

During literacy stations, I have specific station set up (called, “Big Idea Station”) where my kiddos can experience more of our content and big idea.  Our Big Idea Station is one of several stations set up in our classroom during guided reading.  You can read more about that set up here.   I have several things that I keep in this station to help my kids dig deeper into our content while I’m meeting with reading groups.

Close read information texts connected to our integrated big idea.  I love to use Scholastic Kids or Weekly Readers for this station.  The kids LOVE them, they are in full color AND they have a response page on the back to give them an opportunity to practice comprehension and writing skills.

Content sorts and activities.  In each of our units, I have content sorts for classifying and activities related to our big idea.  After we do each of these whole group in response to a read aloud, I add these to our big idea station as well.  They are easy to do independently or with partners.

Read alouds.  Each of our content read alouds go in this station (or our classroom library station) when we finish read them.  Students can independently read and retell the stories or buddy read with their partners.

4. Computer Lab

For some of us, computers are not always readily available.  But for others, an extra computer lab where you accompany your kids each week or daily are just part of the routine.  Why not use this time for content every now and then?

Here are a few websites that I love using for each of our units:
Unit 1, Rights and Responsibilities: Mr. Rogers, Build a Neighborhood Game
Unit 2, Human Body and Animals: San Diego Zoo Games, Body Organs Game
Unit 3, Fables and Economics: Fables Read Alouds
Unit 4, American Contributors: Inventors Game
Unit 5, Weather:  Young Meteorologist Game
Unit 6, Cinderella Around the World: PBS Kids Map Game, PBS Kids Culture Game

5.  Snack Time

One of the easiest ways I sneak in content is through youtube video clips on content during snack time.  Snack time is only 15-20 minutes in my room.  During that time, I can do a content read aloud, we can do a content sort that will go into our big idea station during literacy or I can show a video that connects with the content we are learning.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Magic School Bus – they have episodes on animals, electricity, weather, human body, and sound (all things we cover in our units!)
Animal Atlas – they have videos on each animal group!
Animated Hero Classics – they have episodes related to our units on George Washington, Harriet Tubman, Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin, The Wright Brothers and so many more! (Some of the full episodes can be hard to find online, but you can get them on DVD if you are interested in them that way!)
Map Videos

6.  Science Lab

Last but not least, the best way to sneak in Science is to do experiments.  Reading and writing, websites and videos are great, but nothing can replace hands on experiments.  And they definitely deserve our attention and a place in our primary classrooms.  So how do we do it?  How do we make time for something we know is important for learning content and is a high engager for kids?  Here are a few of my suggestions I’ve tried in my own classroom.

Find one day a week (or bi-weekly) that you can reserve a 30 minute block for an experiment.  When I’ve done this in the past, it’s been Fridays.  For two reasons.  One, we seem to be wrapping up a lot of things on Fridays or doing post-assessments and less big time teaching, like introducing new topics goes on.  This means, that I can shorten each block by a few minutes to carve out 30 minutes at the end of the day.  If nothing else, I shorten writing by just doing a quick journal write.  Because, we always do a science lab response page where my kiddos are having to write hypotheses, results and conclusions anyways, so it seems to work to shorten our writing time on lab days.

Use an extra science lab as a class reward.  I want to be clear on this one.  I do not endorse making your only lab times a reward time.  BUT, I always do some form of class rewards for my kiddos.  Sometimes, it’s extra recess, sometimes it’s a video time, and sometimes it’s an extra science lab.  My kids always work super hard for this reward, because they love getting dirty with science! 🙂

Field trips.  In both districts I worked in, we were expected to take a certain number of field trips each year.  Our team worked hard to purposefully plan these field trips to line up with the content we were teaching at the time.  Live event learning is a buzz word in education in my neck of the woods.  Good, content driven field trips immerse our kids into our area of focus and provide them with a ton of hands on experiences and opportunities to learn from the experts.

Here are a few field trip suggestions for each of our units….
Unit 1, Rights and Responsibilities: bring in people from your school to talk about their responsibilities in our community, fire station
Unit 2, Human Body and Animals: petting zoo, local zoo, game and fish commission speakers, local state park rangers to speak on local animals
Unit 3, Fables and Economics: bank, bring in a guest speaker from a bank
Unit 4, American Contributors:  bring in local government speakers (like a mayor),
Unit 5, Weather: local news station tour, kids science museums usually have great exhibits for weather, bring in the local meteorologist
Unit 6, Cinderella Around the World: ballroom dancing instructors, someone to come speak on formal manners, local city museum to learn about our place in the world

You can find all 6 of these content units in my TPT store!

How do you find time to teach content in your primary classroom?

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