Teaching CER, or Claim, Evidence, Reasoning is a very common way of teaching writing in science classes.
CER is a very specific type of writing in which students are asked to find evidence to support a claim and then justify and support the reasoning that led them to make that claim. This writing technique is useful for other classes as well. For example, once my students had a good handle on how to write CERs, they were able to use the same method in writing DBQs in Social Studies. It could be a great opportunity to collaborate with another teacher!
I have other posts on using and introducing CERs. You might also want to check out Using CER Practice All Year Long and How To Introduce CER Writing In Science Classes. And in this article I have a free Checklist and Graphic Organizer for you!
Teaching cer in science classes
Science lends itself especially well to CERs.
The secret to teaching CER in science is to make sure that the evidence the students are going to be working with is clear and that there is enough of it. That’s usually fairly easy to do if you’re using text evidence.
I like to have students highlight the pieces of evidence that they find in an article. They may discover that they don’t need to use everything they’ve highlighted but I tell them it’s better to have too much evidence than not enough!
As students become better at writing CERs I start to use evidence sources other than text articles. But it can be difficult to find or create evidence sources that are graphic in form. I teach my students that they should have at least 3 pieces of evidence to back up their claims, so I need to make sure that there are actually than many in the source.
Finding CER Source Material
One place to start is to look at old assessments, either your own tests or a state test. Look for diagrams and illustrations that are somewhat complex. Those are the ones most likely to have enough evidence to back up a claim. They may come with a question you can use, or you might be able to come up with your own. And of course it goes without saying (even though I’m saying it!) that the topics must be ones that you’ve covered in class. Students need to use scientific principles in their reasoning.
Ask yourself the question you’d like to use, then try to find 3 pieces of evidence. Obviously you’ll have an easier time of this than your students will, but you will know for sure that the evidence is there.
Another place to look for good source material is websites or magazines that are geared toward students. One of my favorites to use for this is Science News for Students. They have articles on just about any science topic you can think of. And they make them interesting and engaging for kids. For example, as I’m writing this today the main topic on the home page is “What the Mummy’s Curse Reveals About Your Brain.” That’s a headline that will grab them! They also have a newsletter with tips on using the articles in your lessons. BTW, I don’t have any affiliation with them – I just really like their site.
I try to steer clear of CERs on controversial topics, at least with my Freshmen. My AP Biology students were better able to handle those types of source material. Even still I was careful about what I gave them.
Free CER Checklist and Graphic Organizer
It can be difficult for struggling students to write CERs. They may not have enough grasp of the science needed, or they may have difficulty in reading graphs or charts.
To help students who may be having a hard time with this writing technique, I created a checklist and graphic organizer to keep out on their desks while they’re working. So here’s the checklist and graphic organizer I mentioned earlier.
Start out by giving students the graphic organizer along with the source material. The organizer will help them pick out 3 pieces of evidence and then specify the reasoning for each piece of evidence.
Once they’ve completed the graphic organizer, give them the checklist. As they write the CER, students can use it to make sure they’re completing the claim, evidence, and reasoning correctly.
I hope you find this useful! If you have other tips or tricks for teaching CER, please share!