May 9, 2021

Accelerating Learning in ELA Through Science

Dr. Holly Pope

Part 3 of a 3-Part Series

Part 1 focused on deeper learning in science to strengthen math and English Language Arts (ELA) understanding. In Part 2, I focused on accelerating learning in mathematics through deeper learning in science. I also clarified my view on ‘learning loss’

In this final post on accelerating learning, I discuss how science instruction can strengthen learning in ELA. As I did in the previous post with math, I’ll illustrate the interplay between science and ELA, and how Tyto Online leverages ELA to foster deeper science learning. 

Scientific Engagement Requires Communication a.k.a. Language Arts

Communication is crucial for doing science. There are four components to communication: Reading, writing, listening and speaking.  We do it all the time in our daily lives. This also implies that good science is rarely done in isolation. For example:

  • Reading. Scientists read informational texts (journal articles, field notes and notebooks, newspaper articles, archive materials, technical manuals and procedures for carrying out experiments). This is an important part of the research process, which allows scientists to engage with and build on the work of others. Reading the work of others allows scientists to find gaps in the research that may guide other pathways to discovery.
  • Writing.  Someone has to write the articles, manuals, and procedures for other scientists to read! The literature in a field of study makes up its knowledge base. It’s how scientists keep track of what has been done so that others can follow in their footsteps. Writing arguments - claims, evidence, and reasoning - is central to science.
  • Listening and Speaking. Oral communication is also important. Scientists must listen to others as they explain their reasoning and points of view. They must also be able to clearly express their own so that others can understand.

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (CCSS ELA) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

As with math, the importance of ELA in science is evident in the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). Even more evident is the emphasis on non-fiction communication in the CCSS ELA. In fact, a portion of the ELA standards for grades 6-12 address reading and writing in science and technical subjects!

Let’s take a look at how the CCSS ELA and NGSS overlap. The NGSS SEPs feature communication in science. In the graphic below, I connected some of the CCSS ELA reading, writing, listening, and speaking standards for literacy in science to the NGSS SEPs.

Note: This list is not exhaustive. There many more connections that can be made between the ELA CCSS and the NGSS.

Accelerating Learning in ELA with Tyto Online

Tyto Online provides ample opportunities for developing communication skills. Players interact with characters by reading and choosing dialogue. Some quests have research tasks, where players read short articles for facts that could help them solve a problem or explain a phenomenon. Tyto Online’s Argument Builder mechanic is based on the Claims - Evidence - Reasoning Framework. Most of the quests have Argument Builders, where players choose a claim and identify evidence to support their claim. Consider this example from the game.

An Example of ELA in Tyto Online

Ecology module Storyline 3 “Night of the Living Detritus” is driven by the following question:

  • How does a parasite affect a colony of ants?

In this storyline, the player observes the colony and collects data using the Antifier, an ant-sized robot that allows humans to observe and collect data from the point of view of an ant. They notice abnormal behavior from one of the ants, and some of the other ants force it out of the colony. Then players find the outcast ant high above the colony, dying on a branch. Finally, they notice a strange growth growing out of its head and they take some samples for further analysis.

As you can see from the screenshot below, players have to engage in dialogue with the non-player character (NPC) by choosing a response. Another great feature is the highlighted vocabulary words. Players see the word used in context in the dialogue, and can click on the highlighted word to see its definition and visual representation.

In the third quest called “Extreme Piercings” the player examines the samples of the growth under the microscope. They use their findings from this analysis to present what they have learned so far using the argument builder. You can see an example of the argument builder below.

Other ELA Connections

Our Teacher Guides also have supplemental materials and links to activities that can support ELA skills in science.

Vocabulary Word Cards

Remember the highlighted vocabulary words in context of the game dialogue? You can download a pdf of the cards that have the same word, definition, and visual representation from the game. Some teachers use these for interactive word walls in their classroom. Here's a tutorial for creating a virtual word wall.

Suggested Activities

Each storyline teacher guide contains suggested activities that can be jumping off points for research - an important ELA practice. For example, students can research different types of ants and ant colonies at

Scientific Argumentation Supports

Lindsey wrote a great article about supporting your students’ scientific argumentation skills. It provides activities to help introduce argumentation to students, as well as an explanation of how to use the Scaffolded Reasoning Prompt and Argument Writing Prompt as an extension of Tyto Online.

I hope that I have convinced you to use deeper learning in science to combat "learning loss" in math and ELA. Science gives a context for those subjects. Your students will be more engaged and what they learn will last.  So, as you start planning for summer learning and next fall, think about accelerating learning in math and ELA through science instruction.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant # IIP-1853888 to the American Society for Engineering Education. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the American Society for Engineering Education.

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