Summary of #ASEchat 11/02/13 Encouraging literacy in Science

The image above shows a ‘tagxedo’ of most common words used in this ASEchat (with some words removed like the names of frequent tweeters and the word ASEchat).  Interactive version here


Literacy across the curriculum is a hot topic, with much more emphasis put on teaching literacy in the latest framework. Even without the pressure from the government, literacy is an important skill in every subject – as Mr_D_Cheng put it “if students can’t read or write about science there is no point”. TeacherChemist asked “is literacy in science the ability to communicate effectively?” and Cleverfiend agreed it was, but also being able to understand/assimilate information. Biolady99 added that using terminology in the right context is important whilst HThompson1982 added that literacy is a whole school issue, not just the English department. IanMcDaid felt that there isn’t enough talking in science and often too much writing. As DeejBee pointed out, derivations and word stems are important and can serve students well in later life, teaching the skills that will serve them later in life.

Cleverfiend pointed out that literacy can often get lost when we mark for another purpose and others agreed that the marking policy is important.

Top tips from the discussion

  • Remind students to use key skills to complete a task (KDWscience)
  • Give students a framework to help them – SOLO is very good for this (crazyscience34)
  • Present each unit as a book with front page, glossary or blurb (c_gibson85)
  • A skills ladder is useful to help non-specialist teachers mark a style of writing and students see next steps (Cleverfiend)
  • Students with poor literacy skills might appreciate the chance to record their answers instead (brittgow)
  • Do your colleagues produce a word list of scientific words new to each topic (ViciaScience)
  • Create reference displays and use them with students (specialsciteach)
  • Newspapers are super easy for (shared) reading and you can instantly differentiate by reading age (Cleverfiend)
  • You can use online tools like wordle and tagxedo as well as concept maps, Frayer mats, quizlets (brittgow)
  • Putting GCSE specs in Wordle can help be helpful with key word analysis (ViciaScience) and Cleverfield used this technique to visualise APP levels.
  • My marking policy includes literacy and science (Specialsciteach)
  • There are some books called web readers that are useful for science reading and comprehension (SpecialSciTeach)
  • William’s Words is a useful dictionary of science terms (many tweeters recommended this)
  • We focus too much on writing (eg QWC) but reading and comprehension are part of literacy too and important for learning science (A_Weatherall)
  • Good literacy starts with speaking (Mr_D_Cheng)
  • Has anyone used speaking frames? (HRogerson)
  • Catalyst magazine has some challenging articles for reading and can teach skills of scanning and skimming text (NeedhamL56)
  • Excellent book – Language and literacy in science education by Wellington and Osborne. Should be required reading for all (oboelizzy)
  • I’ve got my A2 kids to answer long questions as bullet points, without the blobs at the beginning (Lethandrel)
  • Use graphic organisers to structure writing (damianainscough)
  • Key word card sort – used to use them all the time (HRogerson)
  • Has anyone mentioned newswise? (damianainscough)
  • All outstanding lessons in our recent Ofsted inspection has a literacy or numeracy component (Cleverfiend)
  • Science APP is useful and English APP Too (NeedhamL56)
  • We need to use a wide range of writing styles and purposes to develop confidence in communication (ViciaScience)
  • Concept maps discussed with peer make a good precursor to writing (NeedhamL56)
  • BELIEVE that by improving students literacy you will improve their science its a win- win situation (NeedhamL56)
  • Use mini whiteboards all the time (NeedhamL56)
  • Model what a good one looks like (WAGOLL) (Needham56)

Useful Links

Digital toolbox – literacy in science

Sixcess – gaining top marks for QWC in Science

A review of William’s Words in Science

Write using only the ten hundred most common words

Stem resources – getting to level 6

Ideas for using catalyst magazine

Ofsted guidance

Developing literacy skills in science

Better writing in science


It is hard to summarise adequately everything that was said during the discussion. For those who are interested I’ve uploaded a full transcript of tweets with links highlighted in yellow and useful tweets highlighted in green (here).




Published by Rob Butler

Ex-science teacher, ex-school leader and full-time geek.