In this thread you can find or contribute an instructional strategy (I believe they are called structures in cooperative learning) that is useful for teaching science.

I'm defining an instructional strategy as a particular method that can be used to deliver a variety of different content objectives. Lecturing, for example, is an instructional strategy (an effective one when used sparingly) that we are all too familiar with. I'm looking for alternatives to lecturing as a means of delivering content, although some strategies may include "mini-lectures" as part of the method.

"Read the chapter and answer the questions at the end" is another strategy that doesn't need to be listed here, but if you have other ideas on how to make textbooks (or trade books) more engaging, we would like to hear about it. I think that lecturing and textbooks have a place in middle school science education, but not center-stage.

Please contribute a strategy that you have found to be effective and an example of how you used it. It need not be a strategy that takes up an entire period. In fact, it's probably a good idea most of the time NOT to have a single strategy that takes up the whole period (notice I said MOST of the time).

-- Michael Gatton (, October 22, 2001


PS...There are lots of reference books out there with long lists of instructional strategies. I'm mainly interested in ones that you have actually tried and found useful in an average class with about 30 students. It doesn't have to be something new that you've invented.

Here's an old one.

I use journals for warm-up (introducing a new topic)and for review. I give students about 5 minutes to write on a particular question or topic and then we discuss for another 5 minutes. This may be done as a "Do Now" at the beginning of a period or at the end of a period as review. If I'm introducing a new topic, I may even do it in the middle of a class.

..I can make it simple: Write 3-5 things that you learned today and 2- 3 questions you have about what you learned.
..I can ask students to respond to a statement or quote: "A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg."
..Or answer a thought provoking question: "What would be left if all your cells suddenly disappeared?"

Something I've noticed: I ask for 3 volunteers to read and sometimes have difficulty getting 3 volunteers. But as soon as the ice is broken, hands go up around the room and suddenly everyone wants to read what they wrote. I may let one more person respond, but I encourage them to volunteer early. I don't answer questions at this time, but most of the questions they ask will be addressed in the lesson or unit as we go along. I'm posting some of the questions around the room so I/we don't forget them.

I check the journals (use composition or spiral notebooks) from time to time and either comment on their writing or just put checks on their entries. In some cases I admonish students to write better or more, and I will use the journals to help assign a grade at the end of the marking period. Goes in the "participation" column.

-- Michael Gatton (, October 22, 2001.

Instructional Strategy: Numbered Heads Together

This can be used when reinforcing a concept or reviewing for a test. I used it with the pedigree chart activity:

Students are in groups, obviously. Ask students to number off 1, 2, 3, 4, whatever. I asked students to determine the genotypes for "earlobes" (attached or free) of all the members of a family depicted in a pedigree chart. Students were instructed that they would need to be able to answer 3 questions about a particular member of the family that I would choose: 1.What is the genotype of the family member? 2. Is that the only possible genotype for that family member? Why or why not? and 3. Use a punnett square to justify or explain your answers.

At the end I picked a number (1,2,3,4) from each group to represent the group. The group gets a grade based on the responses of the one person: If all 3 answers are acceptable: 95. Only 2 answers acceptable: 75. Only one answer acceptable: 65. No answers acceptable: 45.

This strategy is taken from Robert J. Stahl's "Cooperative Learning in Science" and should be done with careful thought given to the make- up of each group. It lends itself to factual recall questions as well as questions that require understanding of concepts or processes and some types of skills (Punnett squares, e.g.).

PS: Everyone got a 95 except one group that got an 85 (partial credit). I was impressed by a couple of students who revised their answers without prompting from me once they got to the front of the room and wrote their responses in the boxes on the chalkboard.

Michael Gatton

-- Michael Gatton (, December 06, 2001.

"Museum Tour"

Great idea for those of you who want to do something other than presentations for projects that your students have done. I like to call it the "museum tour". All you need to do is have the students quickly hang their posters or place their projects anywhere there is space. Then, armed with post-it notes, the kids walk around enjoying their classmates' work. They use the post-it notes to attach positive comments to the poster/project. The notes can also be used to write down questions that they may have. After the students feel like they have seen enough (about 20-25 minutes), have them go back to their project to collect the notes that they received. You can then give each student a minute or two to answer any questions that were left on their project. I found this to be a great success and have heard very positive comments from other teachers who have tried it. Let us all know how it works for you...........

-- Justine Papierski (, December 17, 2001.

Homework Strategies

I've added the following homework strategies to the Activities page of

Some of these can also be used as classroom instructional strategies. "Reading Science Cartoons" would work well as a pre- & post- assessment, for example.

I remind everyone that you can contribute strategies that have worked for you at the Instructional Strategies Catalog thread.

Reading Science Cartoons
Template & Example
Adapted from a colleague who does this sort of thing with political cartoons. Why not apply the idea to science cartoons? Gary Larson's Far Side has a some good ones. The example used in the template above is called Inside the Sun. The science twist is that students need to discuss the science concept in the cartoon, and in many cartoons (such as the example above) they will be able to identify one or more science misconceptions. Read the template for more details. Could also be used as a pre- & post-assessment. You may want to do this assignment in class the first time.

Lesson Summaries
A standing assignment that can be used when no other meaningful assignment is available (like when you don't finish a lesson and the planned homework has to be postponed). Probably works best at the beginning of a unit. Standard format for all summaries would be written on re-useable chart paper and look something like this: What did you learn in class today that you didn't already know? Did anything you learned or observed conflict with what you thought before class? What about today's lesson made the most sense? What about today's lesson confused you? Write three "I wonder.." statements about today's lesson. You may want to do this assignment in class the first time.

Depending on the topic, have students observe something in their homes, at school, on the playground, or on their way home and write 3- 5 observations. I recommend the "I notice... I wonder..." format. For example, in ecology or heredity you might ask students to observe pigeons. They might write something like: "I notice pigeons have a lot of different colors and patterns, I wonder how they get so many variations?" You may want to do this assignment in class the first time.

Science Articles
I recommend assembling a collection of articles that are age- appropriate and distributing them as needed. NY Times articles are generally too difficult for most middle school students. Look in Scholastic's Science magazines, other newspapers that aren't so difficult, Time for Kids, etc. You may even find articles on the web. As the year progresses, I will be looking for online articles and will post links below as I find them. Students summarize the article using a standard format (which I will develop soon in conjunction with the English department). You may want to do this assignment in class the first time.

Show & Tell
(You might assign 2-3 students to actually bring an object to school for show & tell, while the rest just write about the object.) Students bring in some object from home (or just write about it) that is related to a topic you are teaching and explain how the object is related. In energy transformations, for example, a student might bring in a flashlight and describe the energy transformations involved in the functioning of a flashlight (Chemical energy from the battery to light energy from the bulb. Extra credit for describing the role of heat energy in the flashlight. Make sure to discuss what is and is not appropriate to bring to school!

Nature Shows
You may have to keep up with the television schedule for this one. Good for a weekend or holiday assignment. Students should watch a science & technology or nature show and write a summary. The summary could be modeled after the lesson summary above, just substitute the word "show" for "lesson:" What did you learn from the show that you didn't already know? Did anything you learned or observed conflict with what you thought before the show? What about the show made the most sense? What about the show confused you? Write three "I noticed.. I wonder.." statements about the show (I added the "I noticed.." because you won't necessarily have seen the show yourself). You might want to watch a show together in class to model how to do this assignment.


-- Michael Gatton (, September 07, 2003.

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