View a printable pdf of the whole lesson here.
We live in a knowledge-based society in which we are exposed to vast amounts of information. As such, we are constantly being challenged to sort through and validate many different claims. These can come from television, through the internet, through personal communication, or in other ways. Often, we are offered assertions that seem to be in conflict with ideas from other sources. How can we substantiate all this information and determine what is valid and what is not?
One way to sort through the many claims that we are faced with is through the use of evidence, an approach most commonly used in the field of science. However, judging a claim based on evidence is a skill that goes beyond the work of a scientist and can be applied to other aspects of life as well.
One method for helping students to develop skills in evaluating claims is to have them analyze scientific informational text. Informational text sources such as EARTH magazine and articles from NASA, the US Geological Survey, and others offer compelling content that many students will find engaging and provide excellent opportunities for them to learn how to validate information. One particularly useful approach that can be used to help students evaluate the specific claims in a text, based on reasons and evidence, is the CERR Model (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning, Rebuttal), a version of which is provided in this activity.
Common Core English Language Arts Standards:
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.8: Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.8: Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.8: Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).
Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Performance Expectations:
Using the CERR strategy to evaluate informational text can be a part of an instructional plan that addresses not only literacy standards, but also NGSS performance expectations. The specific performance expectations that can be addressed depend on the content of the actual passage. For the examples provided in this activity, two of which relate to earthquakes and one to fossils, the performance expectations are:
MS-ESS2 Earth's Systems:
- MS-ESS2-2: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales.
- MS-ESS2-3: Analyze and interpret data on the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures to provide evidence of the past plate motions.
MS-ESS3 Earth and Human Activity:
- MS-ESS3-2: Analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects.
- MS-ESS3-4: Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.
HS-ESS2 Earth's Systems:
- HS-ESS2-2: Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth's surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.
- HS-ESS2-7: Construct an argument based on evidence about the simultaneous coevolution of Earth’s systems and life on Earth.
HS-ESS3 Earth and Human Activity:
- HS-ESS3-1: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.
The goal of this activity is for students to evaluate the specific claims in a scientific text. Individually, students read an article and annotate the text, identifying claims, evidence, reasoning, and rebuttals. Then, students work in groups, sharing their individual findings and coming to a consensus on the parts of the text that are the claims, evidence, reasoning, and rebuttals. Finally, they share their findings with the class and explain their approaches for evaluating the text.
Enough printed copies of the text passage for each student to have her or his own copy. Links to suggested texts are:
- EARTH Magazine: Ground-shaking research: How humans trigger earthquakes
- EARTH Magazine: Amber-encased plant could be oldest known grass: Specimen may also preserve a Cretaceous-aged hallucinogen
- USGS: Earthquake Science Explained
Students should have their own pen or pencil for annotating the text.
For each group:
- Copy of the CERR Group Prompts document | PDF
- Copy of the informational text
- Copy of the CERR Collaboration Rubric document | PDF
- Provide a printed text passage to each student. Instruct students to read the text quickly one time, just to get a sense of the ideas expressed. This is sometimes called “reading for gist”.
- Tell students that they will be reading the text a second time, much more slowly and focusing on specific details. Introduce the CERR Annotation Symbols document. Explain to students that as they read, they should annotate the text using the CERR Annotation Symbols. Allow students to read and annotate their passages.
- After students have finished reading and annotating their texts, break them into groups for discussion.
- Provide a copy of the CERR Group Prompts and CERR Collaboration Rubric to each group. Explain that each group will work cooperatively to complete the CERR Group Prompts document. Tell them that their work will be evaluated according to the CERR Collaboration Rubric. Allow students time to look over these documents and to consider how they can best achieve the “Outstanding” criteria in each row of the rubric. When they are ready, groups can begin their work.
- Bring the class together and have each group share its findings. Presentations can address such questions as: What did you learn from the text? What was the main idea of the text? What evidence supported the claim? What was the rebuttal? What additional evidence would help support or rebut the claim that is made?
- After all of the groups have presented, have the class consider the claims and evidence. Have them describe the strength of the evidence for the claim or for the rebuttal Discuss any questions that students may have about the text.
Use the following rubric to assess the collaboration of students in their group work
(*Assumes that more were available in the text.)
Collaboration with Peers
Fisher, D & Frey, N. (2014) Close reading and writing from sources. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
McNeill, K. L. & Krajcik, J. (2008). Inquiry and scientific explanations: Helping students use evidence and reasoning. In Luft, J., Bell, R. & Gess-Newsome, J. (Eds.). Science as inquiry in the secondary setting. (p. 121-134). Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association Press.
NSTA. (2011). Claim Evidence Reasoning Rubric. Retrieved here.
Zembal-Saul, C., McNeill, K. L., & Hershberger, K. (2013). What’s Your Evidence? Engaging K-5 Students in Constructing Explanations in Science. Boston; Pearson Professional Development.