Claim Evidence Reasoning with Google Forms

I have a slight obsession with Google Forms. I’ve already written two blog posts about things to do with Google Forms. The first, Using Google Forms for Walkthrough Observations, is specifically for creating a workflow for informal walkthrough observations. The second, Google Forms in my Classroom, is examples of how I use Forms regularly in my classroom and with my students.
This post shares an excellent strategy for scaffolding paragraph writing. Total transparency, I got this idea from the one and only Mark Rounds at the Copper Country Summit back in August! Thanks Mark!

In science, we are focusing on writing Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) paragraphs based on labs and phenomena. Our students struggle with writing in general, and especially with CER. We provide many scaffolds, such as graphic organizers and sentence frames, which helps not only our students who are English Learners and/or RSP, but also those who struggle with writing, or are just having a bad day. This particular scaffold uses Google Forms + Autocrat (Sheets Add-on) to create color-coded paragraphs, and has worked well for all of my students.

Form Set-up
I set up the Form with a separate paragraph responses for Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning (extra Evidence + Reasoning for longer paragraphs). Then, I created a template Doc with <> that exactly match each question on the Form. Using the AutoCrat Add-on within Google Sheets, I set up the mail merge to turn the form responses into a paragraph.

Here is a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning example. Feel free to fill out this Form to see what the final product looks like! I also created an Autocrat how-to screencast.
After designing my lesson, I sent the Form out to students via Google Classroom. Once they filled out the form, they were instructed to go to their shared with me on Google Drive (or Gmail) to view their Doc. They made changes and corrected spelling and grammar. I was able to click on links to their Docs from the Sheet, making grading easy.

I am amazed at the improvement in my students’ writing. When I looked through the most recent submissions, I was amazed at how much more my students wrote, and not only quantity, but also quality!

Example #1: This student is RSP, and is frequently lost during class. If I had asked her to write this without scaffolds or with simple written instructions, I would have felt lucky to get two sentences! Obviously, her spelling and grammar (and academic writing) are not perfect, but this is a giant leap.
Example #1
Example #2: This student is mild/mod special education, and is mainstreamed only for science. I am very impressed with how he supports his claims with evidence, and writes in complete sentences. He often gets overwhelmed with writing tasks, so breaking it up into tiny chunks allowed him to work independently.
Example #2

Example #3: This student is a Long-Term English Learner (LTEL). She is a hard worker and is conversationally proficient in English, but lacks strong academic English, reading, and writing skills.
Example #3
In my 8th grade AVID class, we have read, analyzed, and discuss multiple articles and sources relating to a single topic. For their writing, I included counterclaim and rebuttal components.

Example #4: This student is one of the top readers and writers in our school. While she did not necessarily need these scaffolds, she reported that this helped her organize her ideas as she was referring back to the articles and resources. She was thrilled with the color-coding too.
Example #4

Now what?
As I try to slowly remove writing scaffolds for students, this will remain a useful tool for students who either need extra support or opt to use it. It’s easy to have a generic Form handy, and even one they can use for other classes or in future school years.

When you try this with students, please tweet me or comment and share how it goes!


6 Writing Prompts to Jumpstart Your Science Class

[This blog post, 6 Writing Prompts to Jumpstart Your Science Class, was originally featured on Kids Discover on January 11, 2017]

When my students see a writing prompt on the board, inevitably one of them sighs and says, “this is science, not english class!”

This always makes for a great discussion about what scientists do, and how the majority of their work involves reading, writing, and math. All scientists, and science students, must be able to effectively communicate their ideas. The Common Core Standards for Science and Technical Subjects grades 6-8 expect students to use the knowledge the gain from experiments, multimedia sources such as graphics or videos, and texts. Students also must be able to identify the author’s purpose and claim, and extract evidence that supports this claim.

Writing should not be reserved for special occasions, like research papers and lab reports. Instead, it is essential that we encourage our students to develop their effective science communication skills in frequent low-stakes activities, such as quick-writes and short paragraphs.

Writing in science also must go hand-in-hand with reading engaging and interesting pieces of text. There is a time and place for science textbooks. However, they rarely spark students’ love of science. Replace textbook reading with current event articles and news stories. Kids Discover Online has many great informational pieces and text on a wide variety of topics. Some of my other favorite sources for current events are Science News for Students (Society for Science), and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab News.

I use writing prompts as warm-up activities in my science class to build prior knowledge and get students brains to shift to science. Occasionally I collect their informal writing, but I never grade it. I prefer to keep the stakes low, and remove that pressure from my students. Typically, I’m circulating the class as students are writing, peeking over their shoulders, and asking them questions about their writing that will encourage them to write more.

Here are six writing prompts that will get our students’ brains in gear for writing in science:
– Who is a scientist you admire? Why do you admire them? What qualities do they have that make them special?
– Describe how our lives would be different if the lightbulb had never been invented.
– “Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth” (Jules Verne). What does this quote mean to you?
– Are humans hurting or helping our environment? Support your answer with evidence from your experiences.
– Should we colonize Mars? Why or why not?
– Science is all around us, when we do things like cook, ride a bike, or watch TV.  Pick a hobby or activity you do at least once a week, and explain how science is involved.

Anytime we write, at any grade level, it is important to scaffold the writing. Providing sentence starters and paragraph frames is an easy and simple way to support all learners. Also, allowing students to first brainstorm their ideas with a partner before they write is also a simple way to improve students’ writing.

One of my favorite ways to scaffold writing is to have students first do a quickdraw. Students divide a piece of paper in two (can also be done on any app that allows students to draw), hamburger style. I project the writing prompt, and give them 5 silent minutes to draw their answer. Then, I project the same prompt, and have them write their response. I’ve done this as a stand-alone writing prompt, in response to an article, and as a reflection on a short 3-4 minute video.

A new thing I’m excited to try in 2017 is Recap, an app and website that allows students to record short video responses to a prompt. As a teacher, I can listen to my students’ speaking skills, and watch as their confidence grows.

How will you get your students writing more in 2017?