Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2
by Melissa Stewart & Nancy Chesley
Stenhouse Publishers (August 2014)
Barnes & Noble | WorldCat |
Description from the publisher:
Hands-on lessons can be fun and compelling, but when it comes to life science, they aren't always possible, practical, effective, or safe. Children can't follow a lion as it stalks a gazelle, visit the exotic kapok tree in a rain forest, or swim alongside the underwater life in a pond. But they can explore a whole world of animals, plants, and ecosystems through the pages of beautifully illustrated, science-themed picture books.
Perfect Pairs, which marries fiction and nonfiction picture books focused on life science, helps educators think about and teach life science in a whole new way. Each of the twenty-two lessons in this book is built around a pair of books that introduces a critical life science concept and guides students through an inquiry-based investigative process to explore that idea—from animal/environment interactions to the role of structure in plant and animal survival, from inheritance of traits to variation of species.
Each lesson starts with a "Wonder Statement" and comprises three stages. "Engaging Students" features a hands-on activity that captures student interest, uncovers current thinking, and generates vocabulary. The heart of the investigative process, "Exploring with Students," spotlights the paired books as the teacher reads aloud and helps students find and organize information into data tables. "Encouraging Students to Draw Conclusions" shows students how to review and analyze the information they have collected. Bringing high-quality science-themed picture books into the classroom engages a broad range of students, addresses the Performance Expectations outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards, and supports the goals of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.
Even if you are science shy, Perfect Pairs can help you become a more confident teacher whose classroom buzzes with curious students eager to explore their natural world.
My thoughts on this book:
In 1991, I had my first classroom. In those day, curriculum was truly developed by teachers. It was my belief that all things could be taught with the use of literature. For young children, this means through many different picture books. I would create units and hunt down the books that I wanted to use to support a theme or emphasize a concept. In those days, I really never thought about fiction vs. nonfiction. As I think back to those early years of teaching, I certainly had a mix of fiction and nonfiction that I used.
In the past few years, as I think about the many English Language Learners that I work with, I have been pondering how to return to some of what I did in those early years of teaching but to do it with even more intent and purpose. How can I use the wonderful books available in ways that will facilitate instruction in science, while also building stronger skills in reading, writing, listening, and speaking?
When I opened up Perfect Pairs by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley, I fondly thought about the books I have used in lessons. The books that I used as read alouds and the ones that I used as the foundation for a lesson and those that I used to supplement and support the main text. Books like Swimmy by Leo Lionni, The Salamander's Room by Anne Mazer, or Jack's Garden by Henry Cole. I also thought about newer books like A Seed is Sleepy by Diana Hutts Aston, or Miss Maple's Seeds by Eliza Wheeler.
However, what I loved about this book is despite how comprehensive it is there is an ease in which it is laid out and how it is structured. Whether someone is a new or an experienced teacher, the ideas and suggestions are easy to follow and can be implemented in the classroom. For teachers, who may be a bit nervous about teaching science or for those, who are feeling overwhelmed when they hear NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards), Perfect Pairs helps by making it all a little more understandable.
Recently, I took Perfect Pairs into a meeting I was having with a school librarian. She is one of the few librarians I know who also has an advanced degree in science. As she flipped through the book, her comment was "every K-2 teacher needs a copy of this". Yes, my sentiments exactly.
Unlike most book reviews, this one will be more on-going. I am planning on partnering up with the school librarian I mentioned and implement some of these lessons with her and her teachers and then report back. At the same time, I would love to hear from teachers who have decided to pick up Perfect Pairs and how they have used it with students. Let's keep this conversation going and see where it leads us.
About the Authors:
Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 150 science books for children. She has always been fascinated by the natural world and is passionate about sharing its beauty and wonder with readers of all ages.
Nancy Chesley was an elementary teacher for 26 years and a K-5 science and literacy specialist for six years. She won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Elementary Science Teaching in 2000 and the Milken Foundation National Distinguished Educator Award in 2002.