In this lesson, students will analyze an informational text intended to support reading in the content area. The article addresses an innovative way to determine the age of the nitrogen in corn and soybean fields. Determining nitrogen's age could help make agriculture more precise, because when farmers over-fertilize their fields, the excess can leak into water supplies. Research scientists from the University of Illinois believe they can use this new technology to identify areas that are specifically deficient in nitrogen and therefore eliminate the need to apply it uniformly. This would benefit agriculture and the environment. The lesson plan includes a note-taking guide, text-dependent questions, a writing prompt, answer keys, and a writing rubric. Numerous options to extend the lesson are also included.
Subject(s): Science, English Language Arts
Grade Level(s): 9, 10
Document Camera, Computer for Presenter, Internet Connection, LCD Projector, Overhead Projector, Speakers/Headphones, Microsoft Office
Resource supports reading in content area:Yes
Keywords: nitrogen cycle, nitrogen, fertilizer, eutrophication, crop rotation, corn, soybean, topsoil, runoff, farmer, agriculture, text complexity
Lesson Plan Template: General Lesson Plan
Learning Objectives: What should students know and be able to do as a result of this lesson?
- Recognize the beneficial impact on the environment if farmers are able to reduce their fertilizer use.
- Cite specific and relevant text evidence to support analysis of the text.
- Use various vocabulary strategies to define academic and domain-specific words in the text.
- Determine the central ideas of the text.
- Construct a written response that clearly establishes a main point(s), contains relevant textual evidence to support the main point, utilizes transitions to maintain flow, effectively uses domain-specific vocabulary, and provides an appropriate conclusion.
Prior Knowledge: What prior knowledge should students have for this lesson?
- Students should have a strong background on the nitrogen cycle.
- Students should have a basic knowledge on the water cycle.
- This video, uploaded by the National Science Foundation, explains the water cycle in detail.
- This is a great website by The Groundwater Foundation that explains the basics of ground water, but also explains the water cycle and discusses potential threats to our groundwater.
For literacy skills:
- Students should have prior experience utilizing various vocabulary strategies to determine the meaning of unknown words in a text. For this lesson, prior experience in using context clues to determine the meaning of words in a text would be beneficial. In addition, students should have some dictionary skills that will enable them to look up words with multiple meanings and determine the most appropriate meaning based on how a word is used in a text.
- Students should understand the term "central idea" and be able to distinguish central ideas from key details.
- Students should be aware of text features that can help them locate and learn information when reading a text. The text features in the NSF article include the title, subtitle, headings, photographs, and captions.
- Students should be able to respond to a writing prompt in a clear, organized manner that includes use of an introduction to establish the main point(s), body paragraphs that support the main point(s) and include relevant and specific textual evidence, and a conclusion that supports the main point(s).
- Students should have some awareness that use of transition words or phrases can help a piece of writing flow smoothly from one point or idea to the next.
Guiding Questions: What are the guiding questions for this lesson?
- Why is nitrogen essential to life?
- Nitrogen is an element that is used to make macromolecules like proteins, ATP, and nucleic acids. These macromolecules are what living things are composed of.
- Why do farmers add fertilizer to their crops?
- Farmers often use the same fields for years and years. The crops quickly deplete the natural nitrogen sources from the soil. So farmers will add fertilizer to restore nitrogen and increase crop growth and production.
- What happens to any excess nitrogen that the crops do not use?
- Excess nitrogen may leach deep into the soil and possibility contaminate the ground water. Fertilizer can also runoff into streams, canals, lakes, and oceans. Excess nitrogen will feed algae, which creates an algal bloom. As the algae gives off waste and dies, the microbes consume it. The microbes then grow out of control, simultaneously using up the majority of oxygen in the water. The low oxygen levels cause other organisms and often lead to fish kills.
Teaching Phase: How will the teacher present the concept or skill to students?
- Begin the lesson by posing a question to the class: "Have you heard about the toxic algae bloom on the East Coast?" Students answers will vary. Algae blooms occur every year, but this year (2016) a state of emergency was declared due to the spread and its impact on the environment.
- Show students this video from USA Today called "Algae Bloom Prompts Florida State of Emergency." Encourage discussion from students after viewing.
- End the discussion by informing students that fertilizer pollution is a common problem all over the United States and that they will be reading an article that addresses a new way to be more precise about the amount of fertilizer being applied, therefore causing a reduced effect on the environment.
Guided Practice: What activities or exercises will the students complete with teacher guidance?
- Provide each student with a printed copy of the article "What's Good for Crops Not Always Good for the Environment."
- For class discussions that will follow, it might be helpful to have students number each paragraph within each section. They can also number the sections (for example, Section 1 follows the subtitle, Section 2 begins with "Overdosing the environment," Section 3 begins with "Comparing corn and soybeans," and Section 4 begins with "Helping farmers use resources wisely").
- Provide each student with a Note-Taking Guide.
- Before students begin reading, direct them to pay attention to the text features of the article to help them learn and locate information:
- Title: What's Good for Crops Not Always Good for the Environment
- Subtitle: Measure of age in soil nitrogen could help precision agriculture
- Headings: Overdosing the environment, Comparing corn and soybeans, Helping farmers use resources wisely
- Caption: Located under the photograph
- Have students fill out the Note-Taking Guide as they read the text. This can be done individually, in pairs, or in small groups. The teacher should monitor students as they work and provide support and guidance as needed.
- Note: Based on the needs and skills of the students, teachers can decrease the number of academic or domain-specific vocabulary students will define on the note-taking guide.
- For academic vocabulary, students will likely be able to use a variety of vocabulary strategies to define the meaning of the words. For domain-specific (in other words, subject-specific) vocabulary, students will typically need to draw on prior knowledge and use a dictionary to define the words.
- If students struggle with determining the meaning of the selected academic vocabulary, teachers should use the glossary of defined vocabulary on the note-taking answer key.
Formative Assessment (How will teachers check for student understanding?):
- Teachers can check students' understanding by collecting their completed note-taking guides, checking their work, providing written feedback, or grading the assignments. Or, teachers can have students share out their responses and the teacher can provide verbal corrective feedback, allowing students to make corrections to their work during the discussion.
- For discussion of students' answers to the defined vocabulary words, teachers are encouraged to not only ask students to explain the meaning they determined for a word, but the strategy they used to arrive at that meaning. This will allow the teacher to provide alternative suggestions as to how the student could have arrived at the correct meaning of the word.
Common errors/misconceptions to anticipate and how to respond:
- Students may not understand why an algal bloom would cause a fish kill. Most students think about plants or autotrophs as oxygen producers. Algal blooms may produce more oxygen, but not all of it will be dissolved in the water. The biggest domino effect of the algal blooms is the decay of the algae as it dies. The microbes in the water start to decompose the algae, and as they do, they use up all the oxygen, which can lead to fish kills.
- Students do not always realize how long it takes for the water cycle to work. Using and contaminating water quicker than it can be recycled will leave us all fighting for clean drinking water.
Independent Practice: What activities or exercises will students complete to reinforce the concepts and skills developed in the lesson?
Provide each student with a copy of the Text-Dependent Questions to complete. Students should be reminded to continually refer back to the text and to use relevant and specific evidence from the text to support their answers.
Formative Assessment (How will teachers check for understanding?):
Teachers can check students' understanding by collecting their answers to the text-dependent questions, checking their work, providing written feedback, and maybe grading the assignment. Or, teachers can have students share out their responses and the teacher can provide verbal corrective feedback, allowing students to make corrections to their work during the discussion.
Common errors/misconceptions to anticipate and how to respond: Please see the text-dependent questions sample answer key.
Closure: How will the teacher assist students in organizing the knowledge gained in the lesson?
- Before students complete the writing prompt, be sure to review responses to the text-dependent questions as a class, including covering the misconceptions and key points described in the sample answer key.
- After students' written responses have been graded and returned with feedback, teachers might wish to use the provided sample response with the class. Students who are struggling writers can benefit greatly from seeing a well-organized, detailed written response. The teacher could show the sample response on an overhead or with anLCD projector and discuss the following:
- How the writer introduced the topic
- What the main point is (underline)
- How the writer used topic sentences to introduce and connect the paragraphs
- Where text evidence is used
- Where transition words/phrases are used
- How academic vocabulary from the text is used (underline)
- How the writer wrapped up the piece
- As a final option, teachers might want students to use the rubric to provide a score for the sample written response and have them justify the score they gave, possibly providing revision suggestions for any categories they scored lower than a 4.
- Place students in groups of 2 or 4 and have them "sell it to us" by writing a jingle that explains the central idea of the lesson, then present it to the class. Give them a 10 minute time limit.
- Students will individually respond to the writing prompt. They should be directed to respond with a multi-paragraph response, with a clear introduction, body section, and conclusion. They can refer back to the text as they construct their response.
- Provide students with a copy of the rubric and go over it with them so they will know how their written responses will be assessed.
- Go over the writing prompt with students and make sure students understand what the prompt is asking them to address. Encourage students to underline key parts of the prompt as the teacher goes over it so they will remember to answer all the required parts:
- Scientists at the University of Illinois have developed a model that will allow for precise measurement of the fertilizer needed for specific fields of crops. Using evidence from the article you read, explain how human lifestyles are affecting the environment and predict how the model from the University of Illinois will impact the environment. Include eutrophication—nutrient pollution—in your response.
- Teachers will use the rubric to assess students' written responses.
Specific suggestions for conducting Formative Assessment can be found in the Guided Practice and Independent Practice phases of the lesson where it says, "How will you check for student understanding?"
Feedback to Students
Specific suggestions for conducting Feedback to Students can be found in the Guided Practice and Independent Practice phases of the lesson where it says, "How will you check for student understanding?"
Accommodations & Recommendations
For students struggling with the science content:
- This video called "What is Eutrophication?", uploaded by FuseSchool - Global Education (approximately 2 minutes in length), offers a great introduction to the problems associated with excessive fertilization. It should assist students who need more background to comprehend the article.
For readers struggling with the note-taking guide:
- Teachers might want to fill in some answers on the cause/effect graphic organizer for section one, leaving students to fill in a few of the blank boxes in between the provided answers.
For readers struggling with the text:
- It might benefit students to chunk the text. Have students independently read section one, then have several strong readers read section one aloud.
- Then, have students highlight the selected vocabulary for section one on the article. Work with students to model ways to define a few of the academic vocabulary words to get them started. The teacher can think aloud as he or she decides which vocabulary strategy or strategies to use to define a word, and think aloud while deciding which meaning from a dictionary entry with multiple meanings would be the best fit for how the word is used in the context of the article.
- Then, have students complete the note-taking guide for the rest of section one. When students are ready, have them share out their answers and provide corrective verbal feedback as needed, allowing students to make corrections to their work. Then repeat this process for the other sections of the text if needed. Or, at least have students complete the graphic organizer for the next section and receive feedback on their work before they move on.
For struggling writers:
- It might help struggling writers to provide them with an outline to help them structure their response. The outline might include places for them to record:
- Ideas on how to introduce the topic
- A place to write down their main point(s)
- Topic sentences (the first sentence of each body paragraph that will reveal the point of the paragraph and will connect to the paper's overall main point)
- Specific evidence from the text for support in each body paragraph
- Ideas for transition words
- Ideas for use of selected vocabulary
- Ideas on how to wrap up their piece and connect back to the main point(s)
- Encourage or assign students to research an environmental problem in their area and present their findings to the class:
- Design a commercial or poster that raises awareness of an environmental problem.
- Encourage students to become involved with local communities and their regulation of fertilizer and pollution.
Suggested Technology: Document Camera, Computer for Presenter, Internet Connection, LCD Projector, Overhead Projector, Speakers/Headphones, Microsoft Office
For teachers who would like more support in understanding and implementing Reading Standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects into their science curriculum, please see the teacher tutorials featured in the section of this lesson's CPALMS resource page labeled "Attached Resources."
The text's grade band recommendation reflects the shifts inherent in the standards and is based on a text complexity analysis of a quantitative measure, qualitative rubric, and reader and task considerations.
Source and Access Information
Name of Author/Source: Jennifer Heflick
District/Organization of Contributor(s): Brevard
Access Privileges: Public
* Please note that examples of resources are not intended as complete curriculum.