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Common Core Standards: ELA - Literacy

Grade 9-10

Reading RST.9-10.6

RST.9-10.6. Analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text, defining the question the author seeks to address.

Set the Stage

Scientific/technical texts are written for a variety of purposes: to inform, to describe, to explain, or to analyze. All of these purposes, however, seek to answer a specific question. The particular question must first be understood. Then, the answers to that question and how the author arrived at those answers must be identified. Students should be able to articulate why the author chose to include certain facts or details. This standard is all about pulling the text apart and understanding how it works. You’ll need to help your students think like writers and analyze the author’s choices in constructing the text.

Example

Dress Rehearsal

Like all teenagers, you’re considering a career in forensic science. You are fascinated by the use of insect evidence in solving a potential crime. In your biology text book, the authors pose this question: How does a forensic entomologist use insects to solve a mysterious death? Yes, a question we all desperately want answered.

What is the question asking? First, the word forensic means “relating to the use of science or technology in the investigation and establishment of facts or evidence in a court of law.” Second, an entomologist is a person who participates in the scientific study of insects. So, the question is basically asking how an expert uses creepy crawlies and winged creatures to gather evidence about a crime, such as a murder. This evidence might later become testimony in a court of law. Interesting.

The first factor in answering this question is to consider time, both long-term, say at least a month, and short-term, within a few weeks. As you read, you surmise that certain insects, the blowflies, are the first to “investigate” the death. Later, other types of insects arrive to stake their claim. According to the text, there is a little procession of certain insects, who arrive to feed on the others already there. This parade allows experts to tell the time of death, short-term.

The cycle created by the blowflies, their feeding, growing, and laying of eggs, is an indicator of how long a person has been dead on a long-term basis. By collecting and synthesizing this information, scientists are able to determine a time of death over a longer period.

The second factor in answering the question is location. Certain bugs live in certain areas. If a bug is out of its normal habitat, then experts figure that the body has been moved. The type of bug that is present helps determine the area where the murder might have taken place.

Finally, the text also describes limitations to the use of insects in forensics. For example, if it’s wintertime, there are fewer bugs willing to brave the cold. Also, if a corpse is frozen, buried, or wrapped up, bugs have a greater difficulty accessing the body, which could throw off the timeline.

The author of your textbook has chosen to answer the question, “How does a forensic entomologist use insects to solve a mysterious death?” through these specific details and explanations. Why do you think the author chose to include these particular examples? What makes them especially effective for the purpose? Why is the information structured in this way? Why is it important to include the limitations in this discussion? The more you understand about the choices authors make in constructing scientific and technical texts, the better you’ll be at both reading and writing these kinds of texts on your own.

Source:

Biggs, Alton, et al. Biology. McGraw Hill: New York, 2009.

Drill

Fill-in-the-blank paragraph.

experiment answers explain
analyze procedure draw

The main purposes of scientific/technical writing are to (1)___________ a concept, (2)______________ data and information, and (3)_______________ conclusions. The author’s text usually (4)___________ the research question. Often, information in a text can be applied to real-life situations as it describes a (5)_____________, or explain how something is done. By discussing the results of an (6)_______________, the text can better explain concepts and show how things work.

ANSWERS: 

1. The correct answer is explain. Scientific texts are often informational, meaning their purpose is to explain or describe something.

2. The correct answer is analyze. When you analyze information, you take an in-depth look in order to fully understand, explain, and interpret the data. Often scientific texts go beyond a simple explanation and really analyze or investigate concepts, ideas, or data.

3. The correct answer is draw. Usually after an analysis, a scientific text will draw conclusions or make judgments or interpretations about what the information means in a broader context.

4. The correct answer is answers. This is all about author’s purpose, and in a scientific text, the purpose is usually to answer some sort of research question.

5. The correct answer is procedure. Scientific and technical texts often explain how to conduct an experiment or complete a technical task.

6. The correct answer is experiment. Lab reports not only explain the procedure used, they also discuss the results of the experiment and explain what those results might mean.

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