To encourage more reading (and reading comprehension) in science, it is important to share a variety of engaging non-fiction text in the classroom. As a first-year teacher, one of the things I struggled with was trying to find free (or close to free) literary resources that I could easily differentiate for different reading levels and share with my students. Over time, I learned some very important survival tips: 1) Ask your ELA teacher to share their favorite sources; 2) Create your own class library by asking for donations from local community organizations and; 3) Cut, paste, and edit your passages to meet the specific needs of your students.
Here are some of my favorite resources that I’ve used in the past–
1. Readworks – Readworks (RW) offers leveled and standards-based K-12 non-fiction and literary passages for free. In the past few years, they have beefed up their science collection. If you sign up for a free account, you can save your favorite passages to your binder and download the PDFs. RW also provides Lexile levels and scaffolded comprehension question sets. I do suggest reading through the passages first; many of them are quite lengthy so you’ll have to customize them for your students’ needs.
2. NewsELA – NewsELA (NE) was a resource that an ELA teacher shared with me. NE offers leveled and standards-based high-interest current event articles. Like RW, you can sign up for a free account, save favorite passages to your binder, and use their quizzes. NE, however, also offers a paid version called NewsELA Pro where you can assign articles to different classes and track their progress online. Unlike RW, NE offers articles in 5 different Lexile levels. Some articles also provide Spanish versions.
3. ScienceNews for Students – ScienceNews for Students (SNS) is an offshoot of Science News provided by the non-profit Society for Science and the Public (SSP). SNS offers a variety of free high-interest science current event articles for students. Readability is geared generally towards sixth graders and upwards, but I found that most middle-level struggling readers found it difficult to read. Readability scores are included at the bottom of the article. I edited and shortened many of the articles for students, but also linked it to a class wiki news page for independent reading and research for higher-level students. SNS offers engaging visuals, often link to more explanatory articles to further inform curious readers about the topic, and provides Power Words sections that highlight difficult and important vocabulary from the text.
4. NYS Conservationist for Kids – Digging around your state’s department of environmental conservation website can lead to free educational resources. That’s what I found a few years ago when I was looking for local material for an ecology unit. For example, the NYS DEC offers a free class set of 30 copies of their Conservationist for Kids magazine for public fourth-grade classrooms, along with teacher supplements and activity sheets. Reading level may be a bit too easy for my middle-level students, but there were a great supplement for struggling readers.
5. National Institute of General Medical Science Electronic Publications – The National Institute of General Medical Science (NIGMS) offers a great selection of free publications for high school and college students. The publications can be accessed electronically, but you can also request a class set of free booklets. I ordered sets of Inside the Cell and Findings Magazine and offered them as advanced supplemental reading for our middle-level units of cell biology and genetics. They were an excellent resource for students performing independent research tasks.
6. Scholastic Science Magazines – Scholastic offers various science magazines. For elementary, there are Science Spin and SuperScience. For secondary, there is ScienceWorld. I know they’re not free, but I thought they were worth mentioning. I was able to secure a year’s subscription through DonorsChoose during my second year of teaching, and the students absolutely loved the ScienceWorld magazines. The magazines are highly visual, provide a variety of engaging articles from different science subjects, and have an engaging online component. Here’s a excellent tip I learned from a Scholastics vendor representative I met at an NSTA conference: you don’t have to order a whole class set! Call their hotline number and ask for the individual rate. You can pay $20 for one magazine for a whole year’s subscription, and it still comes with the teacher guide and online access.