TIPS for supporting students understanding of informational texts in science

A Framework for K-12 Science Education and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for ELA expect that all students can find meaning in Informational texts.  Starting at grades 7-12, the CCSS for ELA shift the focus away from opinion-centered writing toward evidence-based writing and require that students ask increasingly sophisticated questions about texts.[i] The language and intent of the Framework is consistent with the CCSS for ELA.  A Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards also expect students at the 7-12 grade span to ask clarifying and probing questions of science texts and phenomena (Practice 1) and expect students to understand, communicate, and apply the science information of texts to the phenomena and ideas in the world around them (Practice 8).[ii] By grade 12 students should be able to evaluate the science evidence that an author presents to support a claim, including the value of any visual supports (photos, charts, graphs) that the author presents.

Teachers across Maine and the country are trying to make sense of and implement these ideas. The list below provides tips to help students gain the most from informational science texts.  The list is adapted from work being done by teachers at the Doughty Middle School in Bangor, Maine. The teachers at the Doughty School ask students to tag the text as they read with sticky notes of different colors for each of the categories below.  I thank them for sharing their ideas with me and allowing me to share those ideas with you. You can also download the TIPS as a word document (TIPS for Supporting Students Understanding of Informational Texts).

Text Title  

  • List something you already know about this topic.
  • Make an observation about the cover or title page.
  • Write a prediction of about the main point of the text and explain your reasoning for the prediction [inference and evidence].

Reader “Hooks”

  • Note curious facts
  • Find interesting quotes
  • Locate information that is new to you
  • Identify the author’s primary and secondary claims, and significant supporting evidence.

Graphics: Photos, drawings, diagrams

  • Write 3 observations about the graphics.  Which graphics support understanding?  Why?
  • Find examples of graphics with distinct purpose.  Does the caption aid understanding or confuse?


  • Note words or phrases that are specific to the topic, especially any that are used repeatedly in the text.
  • Explain the meaning of the words in the context of science.


  • Summarize the 5 most important details within the text
  • Identify and summarize the claims and make note of supporting evidence

Communicate your understanding 

Evaluate the value of the information presented in a broader context of what you know about science.

  • Does the information help you to make sense of data you have collected?
  • Do the author’s claims make sense in relationship to other data that is commonly accepted by scientists?
  • Do the author’s claims and evidence help us to understand and answer new questions?
  • What new information does the author add to the field?

[i] Common Core State Standards Initiative. 2012. (Reading: Standard1 (evidence) and Standard 2 (summary).  Note 5/6 where opinion is removed. Writing:  Standard 7 (research and asking questions).  Note, in particular, the 5-8 progression.)

[ii] A Framework for K-12 Science Education. 2011. pp. 40 – 80.