Friday, November 16, 2012

Literature Circles: Scientists in the Field Series

This summer, in my Exploring Nonfiction in the Elementary and Middle School Classroom course at Lesley University, one of my students, Jenn Carter, suggested using The Scientists in the Field series for a Literature Circle exploration at the middle level. It could be conducted purely in language arts, studying writer's craft in nonfiction or as an integrated unit in language arts and science, exploring the connection between animal habitats and our developing world.  Here are some of Jenn's ideas, shared with her permission.
Part One: Building Background Knowledge
1.     Get into your groups based upon your chosen animal topic.
a.      Elephants
b.     Frogs
c.      Whales
d.     Bees
e.      Polar Bears
f.       Wolves
g.      Gorillas

2.     Visit the PBS Nature website and watch the video program that corresponds with your topic.

a.      An Elephant to Remember
b.     Frogs: The Thin Green Line
c.      The Fellowship of the Whale
d.     Silence of the Bees
e.      Bears of the Last Frontier: Arctic Wanderers
f.       In the Valley of the Wolves
g.      Gorilla King

3.     Use a graphic organizer to take notes on the video.  What do you notice about how the information is presented in the video?  What type of organization is utilized?

4.     Work in your groups to fill out the first two columns of the KWLR chart.
Part Two: Reading, Questioning, and Gathering Information
1.     Choose the Scientists in the Field series book that corresponds with your topic.
a.      The Elephant Scientist
b.     The Frog Scientist
c.      The Whale Scientist
d.     Hive Detectives
e.      The Polar Bear Scientist
f.       Once a Wolf
g.      Gorilla Doctors

2.     As a group, do a picture-walk through the text.   Use the graphic organizer provided to make predictions and gather information about how the text is organized and what information is included.  Use pictures, captions, headings, sidebars, and other text features to help you.

3.     Before reading, preview the During Reading Questions provided.

During Reading Questions:
1.     Who is the scientist?  What is his or her background?
2.     What is the central problem or question the scientist is trying to solve or answer?
3.     How does this problem or question relate to the animals’ contact with humans?
4.     How does the researcher use the scientific method to help them solve the problem or answer the question?
5.     Describe the results of the research.  What new information is uncovered?
6.     How is the book organized?  How does this type of organization help you to understand the topic?

4.     Read the book (independent-read, pair-read, group read-aloud) and use sticky notes to mark the text as you find answers to the During Reading Questions, the questions from your KWLR chart, as well as other information you find interesting.

5.     Discuss with your group what you learned.  As a group, complete your KWLR chart and your During Reading Questions worksheet.

 Part Three: Sharing What You Learned
1.     Work together in your groups to develop a presentation on your book.  Your presentation should cover the following subtopics:
a.      Background information and the scientist and the animal being studied
b.     A description of the research question and the process the scientist uses to find an answer to that question
c.      A description of the research results
d.     A description of how the book is organized
e.      Your opinion of the book.  Was it interesting to you?  Why or why not?
Your presentation should be no more than 20 minutes in length and should include visuals and other strategies to engage your audience. 


  1. This is a fabulous plan. It's organized, yet flexible. Students will learn about the process and content of science. I can't wait to share it with my studens. Thank you, Jenn, for this useful contribution.

  2. Hey! Do you use actively online social communities?

  3. I just found out about this post--thanks so much for including two of my books (THE FROG SCIENTIST and GORILLA DOCTORS). I'm always interested to know how teachers and students are using my books in their classrooms, always open to suggestions for improving my work, and happy to answer questions. You can contact me via my website at