June 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Inquiry and Integration Across the Curriculum | On Common Core

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We are at an exciting, if not dizzying, time in the field of education; the standards for the four core content areas have been completed. While the Common Core State Standards [CCSS] for English Language Arts and Content Literacy and the Common Core Standards for Mathematics are not quite as new as they were a year or two ago, the Next Generation Science Standards were released just this past April, and the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards last month. These last two sets of standards have been written with direct connections to the CCSS embedded within them, making it more manageable for teachers from kindergarten through high school to integrate curriculum.

The new Next Generation Science Standards are performance standards, created to demonstrate not merely what students will know, but what students will know how to do. Each grade at the elementary level has been given a narrative storyline detailing what students will be able to achieve the end of that grade across the different standards. This month, we will focus on inquiry and integration in primary grade science. In the new standards, second graders are asked to “develop an understanding of what plants need to grow and how plants depend on animals for seed dispersal and pollination” (Next Generation, K-2 Combined Storyline, p.4). Below are some ideas for how to approach planning instruction for the Life Science Standards for second grade using excellent trade books.


Inquiry and Integration

Topic: “How Do Plants Grow?”

Grade Span:  Grade 2

Disciplinary Lens: Life Science

Disciplinary Core Ideas from Life Science 2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

·      Plants depend on water and light to grow.

·      Plants depend on animals for pollination or to move their seeds around.

Performance Standards:

Next Generation Science Standards (nextgenscience.org):

·      2-LS2-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to determine if plants need sunlight and water to grow.

·      2-LS2-2.Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.


Common Core State Standards: (corestandards.org)

·      CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.7 Explain how specific images (e.g., a diagram showing how a machine works) contribute to and clarify a text.

·      CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.9 Compare and contrast the most important points presented by two texts on the same topic.

·       CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.2.7 Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations).

·      CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.2.8 Recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.

Children’s & Young Adult Literature:

Aston, D.H. (2007). A Seed is Sleepy. Ill. by S. Long. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Bang, M. and Chisolm, P. (2009). Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life. New York: Blue Sky Press.

Bang, M. and Chisolm, P. (2012). Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas. New York: Blue Sky Press.

Galbraith, K.O. (2011). Planting the Wild Garden. Ill. by W.A. Halperin. Atlanta: Peachtree.

Goodman, E. (2009). Plant Secrets. Ill. by P.L. Tildes. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Peterson, C. (2010). Seed Soil Sun: Earth’s Recipe for Food. Ill. by D.R. Lundquist.  Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mill Press.

Teaching Ideas:

·      Keep several potted plants in your classroom. Keep some away from the windows, and some near the light. Before you officially start your unit of study, have students keep plant observation journals. Each day for a couple of weeks, students can draw a picture and take written notes describing one of the plants. Over time, water only some plants. Have students pose questions as to why the plants appearances are changing, as well as possible answers.

·      Bring in a range of seeds from different types of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Have students sort and arrange seeds in as many different ways as possible (color, shape, size). Have them make a chart describing the different categories that there were able to identify, and what questions they have about how the seeds are similar and different.

·      Read aloud Plant Secrets to the class. Have students create visual timelines that map out each stage of the plant life cycle.

·      Print out and laminate color photographs of the life cycle of four different plants (seed, plant, flower, fruit). In small groups, have students match the correct four stages with the correct plant name.

·      Read aloud Living Sunlight. After reading, as a whole class, review what happens during photosynthesis, mapping it out on chart paper. It may be necessary to read the book one day, and then read it again the next day. Next, have students in small groups act out the process through pantomime, using no words.

·      In small groups or in pairs, have students design and carry out, as the performance standards above prescribe, an experiment that demonstrates that plants need water and sunlight to grow.

·      Using the collection of books listed above (except Planting the Wild Garden), have students mine each book to see what each says about the roles that animals play in dispersing seeds. They will not find as much information as they would hope. Next, read aloud Planting the Wild Garden, and have them list the ways in which animals help plants grow. Using this book, as well as a range of other print or digital resources that demonstrate this relationship, have students individually create visual models (drawings, maps, diagrams) that show how animals help to disperse seeds and pollinate plants.

·      Discuss with students the range of illustrations used in the different books listed above, and how they are similar to and different from one another in the ways in which they convey information about the plant life cycle.

·      Have students write nonfiction picture books to read aloud to the kindergarten students in your school. Students should write about the plant life cycle, why plants need water and sunlight, and the how to’s of plant care for young children.

·      Using A Seed is Sleepy as a mentor text, explore adjectives. Have students describe the different plants in your classroom, or on the school property, or in a nearby park, using adjectives. It may be helpful to take a digital photograph for each plant each student selected. Next, have students make posters to line the hall outside the classroom that feature the photograph (or a student painting) of the plant and a few sentences that describe the adjective (or even a poem!).

·      Start a compost bin in your classroom for appropriate snack leftovers. Throughout the year, have students take a peek (and a sniff!) and describe what they see happening in their science journals.

As you can see, identifying the relevant standards to address and selecting appropriate nonfiction literature are the essential first steps. With this information, we can create engaging activities that build scientific understanding and enthusiasm for learning.

Eds. note: Each month the authors of this column will take a look at another grade level and curriculum area. Coming in November is intermediate grade social studies.


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  1. If you are looking for a middle grade read that combines language arts and science curriculum all coded to the common core, Worlds Around Us is a free curriculum and activity book for use with Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus. It is being taught in schools around the country with very positive results. Granted, the novel is not non-fiction, but there is plenty of science throughout so it achieves a good balance of exciting reading with learning.

    • Thank you CT for the library connection. I hope that future articles will have the SLJ contributers showing how they expect teachers to make use
      of library support and contribution to actual shared teaching that the library staff provides for the CC.