Climate Change/Earth Science

STEM Tuesday– Taking a Look at Climate Change/Earth Science– In the Classroom

Tough Texts

As I discussed in last week’s In the Classroom blog, science text is tough because it is often dense–there are lots of ideas crammed into just a few sentences. Students often think of reading as an all-or-nothing proposition: either they read through and get it (success!) or they read through and didn’t (failure!). Academic text is more complicated than that. Just as they couldn’t unzip a duffle bag and instantly perceive everything inside, they won’t be able to understand most academic texts on the first read-through. They have to be like the guards at the stadium and unpack (or at least riffle through) the things inside the duffel bag.

In this month’s blog, I am going to walk through a set of unpacking tools that readers might use to work through a passage from Inside Biosphere 2: Earth Science Under Glass by Mary Kay Carson.

Before using this passage with your class, you should do a quick book-talk, explaining that the Biosphere 2 is a gigantic (multi-acre!) laboratory that reproduces several earth biomes in ways that allow scientists to control environmental variables such as the temperature, rainfall, wind, and the organisms present. One of the biomes is a tropical rainforest. Joost van Haren studies this biome.

Then present them with this passage from pages 24-25.

Highlight these strategies as you work through the passage with your students:


Focus in on this sentence:

Coal, petroleum, and natural gas were once plants and animals full of carbon, like all living things.

There are actually three ideas in this sentence, that I have marked with slash marks (/) below.

Coal, petroleum, and natural gas were once plants and animals / full of carbon, / like all living things.

If your students are familiar with all three ideas, the sentence will be easy to read. But if some of these ideas are new, they may need to linger on them a moment, and think through what is being said and how it relates to their prior knowledge about fossil fuels.

This strategy is called chunking. Students tend to pause and think at points predetermined by the author: at commas, periods, or the ends of paragraphs. Sometimes, a reader needs to slow down and process smaller chunks of text. As Ruth Schoenbach explains in Reading for Understanding, nobody eats a pizza in one bite. Everyone has to break the pizza down, bit by bit, but different people take different sized bites.

Sketching/ Diagramming

This passage offers a whole series of causes and effects, a cascade of consequences. A quick sketch of the relationships between ideas could help keep them straight. This was my sketch through the text:

Look for surrounding supports

Many science ideas are easier to understand in diagram form, so when you encounter tough text, check surrounding pages for a diagram or illustration. In this case, some of the information in this paragraph is summarized in a diagram of a tree interacting with the environment on page 24.

Build your background

Sometimes, tough text is tough because the writer of the text assumes you already know something that you don’t already know. If you’ve tried to unpack the text, and its still tough, you may need to step back a level–not a “reading level” so much as a “knowledge level.” Read someone else’s account of the ideas, especially one aimed at a less knowledgeable audience, and see if that gives you the background for the more sophisticated text. Another book off this week’s list addressed some of these ideas in simpler form. Show students this passage from page 5 in Out of the Ice by Claire Eamer.

What information does this paragraph contribute to their understanding?

Skip it

Let students know that sometimes, its ok to just skip past a section of tough text! This can feel very freeing for struggling readers. It depends on your purpose for reading–I chose this passage because it gets at an important idea for Earth Science. But what if you are reading this because you want an overview of Biosphere 2? Or you are planning to visit, and want to know what to expect? Or you’re looking for an idea for a science project? You might not need to understand this particular section of text. In this particular book, there is a wealth of interesting information. You could skip this paragraph and still glean all kinds of great ideas from the book. Indeed, it may be that reading further clarifies this set of ideas for you.

(And as a side note make sure your students know that it can be ok to blame the author. Sometimes, text is tough because it is not well-written (not the case here, but sometimes)! Struggling readers tend to assume that reading struggles are all their fault. But many times, the fault lies with writer for not expressing ideas clearly.)

Jodi Wheeler-Toppen is a former science teacher and the author of the Once Upon A Science Book series (NSTA Press) on integrating science and reading instruction.  She also writes for children, with her most recent book being Dog Science Unleashed: Fun Activities to do with Your Canine Companion. Visit for more information on her books and staff development offerings.

STEM Tuesday– Taking a Look at Climate Change/Earth Science– Book List

Climate change. It’s all around us. Warming air temperatures. Warming seas. Melting ice and rising sea levels. Dangerous storms and wildfires. The following list takes a look at climate and weather from multiple angles.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science, and Survival by Sneed B. Collard III

Sneed Collard focuses in on one of the species impacted by climate change — the snowshoe hare. Readers will uncover how a warmer planet will have consequences on each and every one of us through this fascinating study of just one Arctic creature.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgInside Biosphere 2: Earth Science Under Glass by Mary Kay Carson; photographs by Tom Uhlman

Mary Kay Carson investigates one of the world’s most interesting experiments in this Scientists in the Field starred title. This unique desert lab replicates area on Earth so that scientists can explore the large scale impact of climate change.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Geoengineering Earth’s Climate: Resetting the Thermostat (a Green Earth honoree) by Jennifer Swanson

Can scientists reset Earth’s thermostat? Jennifer Swanson explores a radical new technology to try to cool the planet in this important STEM title.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Out of the Ice: How Climate Change Is Revealing the Past by Claire Eamer; illustrated by Drew Shannon

As the planet warms new discoveries are taking place. In this middle-grade picture book, Claire Eamer introduces readers to the treasures that have been locked in ice in Earth’s cryosphere.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Coming March 2019 – Tornado Scientist: Seeing Inside Severe Storms by Mary Kay Carson; photographs by Tom Uhlman

Tornados are featured in this upcoming title by Mary Kay Carson. Follow scientist, Robin Tanamachi and her team as they try to save lives across America’s heartland.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Eye of the Storm: NASA, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code by Amy Cherrix

Amy Cherrix takes readers right into the danger zone in this exploration of hurricanes. In a world of increasingly severe storms, this book offers readers a look into how they are studied and data is collected.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit How Could We Harness A Hurricane? by Vicki Cobb

This NSTA Best STEM Book is another to add to your hurricane science shelf. Vicki Cobb shares how scientists explore ways to weaken hurricanes. It’s a great book to get readers asking questions just like scientists.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit We Are The Weather Makers: The History of Climate Change by Tim Flannery, adapted by Sally Walker

Discover this young reader’s edition of the adult title, The Weather Makers. Published by Candlewick Press in 2009, you can still find this informational title online and in libraries.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Next Wave : The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans by Elizabeth Rusch

Travel with the author and a team of scientists to the Pacific Northwest to explore the potential renewable energy of the oceans. This is another great read in the Scientists in the Field series.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Weather: An Illustrated History: From Cloud Atlases to Climate Change by Andrew Revkin and Lisa Mechaley

This beautifully illustrated history of weather is a must for readers of all ages. Everything from the history of Groundhog Day, London’s Great Smog, the Paris Agreement, and the invention of air conditioning can be found inside.  It’s a great resource for budding meteorologists and climate scientists. Whether preparing a report and prepping for a trivia contest, readers will come away more knowledgeable about the issues and history of our planet.


STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, THE STORY OF SEEDS: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World, which earned the Green Earth Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia.  She strives to inform, inspire, and educate her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 multi-starred title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. Visit her at

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of a Sibert Honor for Sea Otter Heroes and the Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy!, her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. New:  Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation, an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book. During author visits, she demonstrates how her writing skills give a voice to our beleaguered environment. Visit her at