Knowing how to introduce CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) writing in science classes has become more important than ever. Of course, we all want our students to be good science writers. The NGSS and CCLS have made it imperative that we directly teach this skill and that we continue it all year long.
Introduce CER as a Stand-Alone Lesson
I’ve tried teaching CER in two different ways: incorporating it into my existing lessons, for example in a lab write-up, or teaching it as a stand-alone lesson.
I had the most success with the majority of my students by teaching it as a stand-alone lesson. Investing a class period or more into teaching this skill had the effect of showcasing its importance to the students. Not only that, since we were all focused on the same concept it was much easier for me to help students that were struggling.
Introduce CER early in the school year since this is a skill they will need to practice often. I wait until the students are feeling more comfortable and I’ve established some rapport with them. I want them to feel at ease in asking for help if they need it.
Introduce CER with lots of practice!
If students have a good working knowledge of hypotheses then they don’t usually have too much difficulty with the Claim part of writing CERs. Since the claim is just “the answer to a question,” students tend to have a good grasp of this part. As the year goes on, I tend to give them text or diagrams where the claim may not be so obvious.
Typically, text evidence is also not very difficult for the majority of students. Those with poor reading skills will of course have a harder time with this. For those students, Cornell notes can help them to sort out some of the keywords and context clues that they need to look for.
I like to have students highlight the evidence in their text, especially during the early practice stages. Doing this makes it much easier for them when they go back to write their reasoning statements.
When the evidence is presented as a data table, chart, graph, or diagram some students have a bit more difficulty finding evidence. Telling them to find a specific number of evidences sometimes helps. For example, I usually tell my students that if they have a data table, 2 pieces would be the minimum and 3 is better.
They need to be able to interpret graphs and diagrams in order to pick out the evidence to support the claim. As a class, have students read the captions, talk about the diagram and pick out key parts … show them that they need to look at ALL of it in order to understand it and pick out evidence.
The reasoning part is where I find that students tend to have the most trouble. They find it difficult to apply scientific principles (which many of them may not even understand) to the evidence they have. For this reason, I like to give them a few “sentence starters” to help them get started.
Starters such as “Based on the evidence we can conclude that ….” or “The reason I believe ______ is ______” can jump-start their thinking processes to help them connect the evidence to the claim.
I created a Powerpoint lesson and made a set of notes/practice to go along with it. It takes about a class period (mine are 42 minutes). It starts off with a really cute Youtube video of a commercial where a little girl tells us her father is an alien! It’s a fun way to introduce Claims and Evidence. At the end of the practice is a section where I ask them to “Pull It All Together” and write the Claim, Evidence and Reasoning from a single data table. Sometimes I assign this as homework if we run out of time.
As we work through the lesson, I have students work on the practice parts right in class, while I circulate around and provide help as needed. Then I like to call on students to share what they’ve done. Then they keep the sheets in their binders to look back at when necessary.
Here’s the product if you’d like to check it out at my store.
Keep an eye out for updates because I plan on creating CERs for many different biology topics! They will be great to use for exit tickets, formative assessments, quizzes or sub plans.
How do you teach CER in your classroom? We’d love to hear your ideas!