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Exciting Nonfiction Science Books: Not an Oxymoron

Science Under the Microscope

As educators, we spend countless hours in professional development studying methods for improving teen literacy and planning ways to integrate literacy into our daily lessons. At my school as well as the many others I've visited recently, the surge of support for literacy instruction is palpable.


There are many theories out there as to the best way to improve literacy. In the end, research has proven that the single most effective way to build reading and writing skills is providing opportunities for students to read. As a result, I now give my students periods of sustained silent reading (SSR) weekly during my Science class. I have also begun to read to my middle school students and having discussions with them about the books, reflecting on the themes and ideas within them.

Choosing the right books to read with or to your students can be tricky. I've found several nonfiction books that provide meaningful science lessons and engage adolescent minds equally well. High school students can probably read these independently, while many middle school students may require supports such as teacher reading aloud.

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Science Savvy Recommendations

Exciting Nonfiction Science Books: Not an OxymoronThe Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and The History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean

This is an amazing book that gives the reader a tour of the Periodic Table from a historical perspective, including interesting stories of the discovery of elements and their use for the benefit and detriment of society. Learning the elements and their importance is much easier for students (and their teacher) when they can remember a bit of intrigue or rivalry to make it "stick". You'll never forget the problems associated with mining molybdenum when you learn that miners called it "Molly Be Damned".

Exciting Nonfiction Science Books: Not an OxymoronOlder Than the Stars by Karen C. Fox

Okay, so this is a picture book and you're probably thinking that it isn't appropriate for your students. You couldn't be more wrong. My middle school students (especially those who struggle to read grade-level material) came away with a much clearer understanding of the origin of the universe. The Big Bang Theory is rendered in vivid illustrations and lucid poetry that doesn't avoid complex cosmological ideas, but explains them in simple language.  Besides, kids of all ages enjoy having a picture book read to them.

Exciting Nonfiction Science Books: Not an OxymoronWicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart

This book shares many similarities with the first book on this list, but trades in some of Disappearing Spoon's arcane discussion of radioactive decomposition for murder-mystery-style tales from the plant kingdom. In the world of biology, plants have suffered from their inevitable comparison with world of animals, replete with gory predator-prey relationships. This book remedies that situation in ways that will make each of students think twice before wandering off the garden path again.

These are just a few of the many captivating nonfiction science books I found to be responsive by students. Give them a try and see how engaged your students will become in these science savvy books.

Do you have more examples of captivating nonfiction science books? Share them in the comments section below!

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