How to teach Limiting Factors and Carrying Capacity in Middle School

Middle schoolers sometimes have a small view of the world. Teaching limiting factors and carrying capacity in middle school helps students see the bigger picture of interactions. Exposing them to the ways that different species interact is a good start to helping them become better citizens and informed users of resources.

What are limiting factors and carrying capacity?

Limiting factors refer to the resources or environmental conditions that restrict the growth or reproduction of a population. Carrying capacity is the maximum number of individuals that a given environment can support over a long period of time. The carrying capacity is determined by the availability of resources, such as food and water, as well as the presence of predators and competitors. When a population exceeds its carrying capacity, it can lead to a decline in population size due to a lack of resources or an increase in mortality.

What should we teach about limiting factors and carrying capacity in middle school?

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for 7th and 8th grades include several performance expectations related to limiting factors and carrying capacity. Some of the key concepts that 7th graders are expected to understand include:limiting factors and carrying capacity

  • The relationship between the availability of resources and the growth of a population
  • How limiting factors such as competition, predation, and disease can affect population size
  • The concept of carrying capacity and how it can change over time
  • How human activities can impact the carrying capacity of an ecosystem

In order to meet these performance expectations, 7th graders will likely engage in activities such as observing and collecting data on populations in different environments, analyzing data to identify patterns and relationships, and using models to explore how different factors can affect population growth. They may also participate in investigations and discussions to explore how human activities can impact the carrying capacity of an ecosystem.

It’s important to note that the NGSS is a framework and not a curriculum, it serves as guidelines for the states to develop their own standards. So the specific standards may vary by state.

Lesson plans to teach limiting factors and carrying capacity

Great lesson plans about limiting factors and carrying capacity address these objectives:

  • Students will be able to identify and describe the different types of limiting factors that can affect population growth.
  • Students will be able to explain how carrying capacity is determined and how it can change over time.
  • Students will be able to analyze data on population growth to identify patterns and relationships.
  • Students will be able to use models to explore how different factors can affect population growth.

What to include in a middle school lesson plan about limiting factors and carrying capacity:

  1. Assess prior knowledge – Begin by discussing what students already know about population growth and limiting factors. Ask them to give examples of factors that can affect population growth.
  2. Introduce the concept of carrying capacity and explain how it is determined by the availability of resources and the presence of predators and competitors. I always use an example of building a stool. If you have 3 legs and a seat, you can build 1 stool. How many stool can you build if you have 50 legs and one seat? We use this example to learn the terms of limiting factor and carrying capacity. Click here to see the slide show that I use when I teach this concept. 
  3. Use data – Provide students with a set of population data for different species and have them graph the population over time. Examples may include a population of rabbits in a fenced-in area without predators, a population of fish in a lake with a changing water level, or a population of bees in a hive with a changing food supply. As a class, analyze the data to identify patterns and relationships. Discuss what limiting factors that may have affected the population growth and how the population of one species may affect the population of other species.
  4. Hands on activity – Give students an opportunity to observe how species interact by playing a population game. Create cards with various events on them that affect populations – drought, famine, competition, etc. – and have students take turns drawing cards and keeping track of how a population of animals is affected. Click here to see the hands on activity I created to demonstrate limiting factors.

In conclusion, understanding the concepts of limiting factors and carrying capacity is essential for students to understand the complexities of population growth and how different factors can impact it. The resources and activities discussed provide a comprehensive and interactive approach to teaching these concepts, making them more accessible and engaging for students. With hands-on activities, data analysis exercises, and real-world scenarios, students are able to understand the relationships between resources, population growth, and carrying capacity.  In turn, your students will become more informed users of resources and better citizens.

Using Tarsia Puzzles in Middle School Science


What are tarsia puzzles

Tarsia puzzles are a versatile and engaging tool for teaching science to middle school students. They provide a hands-on approach to learning and help students understand complex concepts in a fun and interactive way. In this blog post, we will explore the use of tarsia puzzles in 7th grade science classes and the benefits they offer.

Tarsia puzzles are interactive puzzles that consist of a number of jigsaw pieces that fit together to form a larger image or concept map. They are often used in mathematics and science classes to help students understand complex topics. In science classes, I use tarsia puzzles to help students practice vocabulary.

Benefits of Using Tarsia Puzzles in Science Classes

  1. Hands-on learning

One of the major benefits of tarsia puzzles is that they offer a hands-on approach to learning. This is particularly important in science, where students need to understand complex concepts that are often difficult to grasp through reading and lecture alone. With tarsia puzzles, students are able to physically manipulate the pieces and see how they fit together, helping to solidify their understanding of the concepts being taught.

  1. Engagement

Tarsia puzzles are a highly engaging activity that students enjoy participating in. They provide a break from traditional lectures and allow students to work together in small groups, encouraging collaboration and communication skills. The puzzle aspect of tarsia also appeals to students’ sense of competition and can motivate them to learn more about the topic being taught.

  1. Reinforcement of key concepts

Tarsia puzzles are an excellent tool for reinforcing key concepts in science. By using the puzzles, students are able to see the connections between different concepts and understand how they all fit together. This can help them remember important information and apply it to future topics of study.

  1. Differentiated instruction

Tarsia puzzles can be adapted to meet the needs of different students, making them an effective tool for differentiated instruction. For example, more challenging puzzles can be used for advanced students, while simpler puzzles can be used for students who need more support.  This allows teachers to meet the needs of all students in the class, regardless of their ability level.

One way to differentiate tarsia puzzles is to add dead-end questions to make the puzzle more challenging. I add a few vocabulary terms on the the edges of the puzzles but don’t include the answers. You can also purposefully make a mistake in your puzzle – match the wrong term to the definition, perhaps – and tell students they have to find the mistake. Make it even more challenging by making 2 or 3 mistakes.  A third way to differentiate tarsia puzzles is to use a “?” in one location and ask students to identify the missing term. They will have to complete the puzzle in order to figure out what’s missing.

To make puzzles more accessible for students who need more support, give them one, or more, piece already in place.

Tips and tricks to using Tarsia puzzles in middle school science

Fair warning – these puzzles are not easy for students at first! I tried an 11 question and answer hexagon the first time my students saw a tarsia puzzle and it was very challenging. The second time they see a puzzle is a bit easier for them, and they are champs by the third time.

To ease initial frustration the first time you ask your students to try a tarsia puzzle:

  • Use as few words as possible in your puzzle. Short questions and single word answers will make it more approachable.
  • Use content your students are close to mastering, or at least are very familiar with. This is not a good puzzle for the first time your sixth graders have heard of symbiosis.

How to create your own Tarsia puzzles

Tarsiamaker is a free website that allows you to make unlimited tarsia puzzles in 4 different shapes – a small triangle with 9 questions and answers, a small hexagon with 11 questions and answers, a large triangle with 18 questions and answers, and a large hexagon with 30 questions and answers. The benefits of using this website is that you can quickly generate a puzzle during your lunch break and then print and use it your classroom next period. The drawback is that the shape options are limited.

The tarsia puzzles in the JustAddH2OSchool store all include a digital version. To create a digital version of a tarsia puzzle, you need to save each puzzle piece as a separate image and then add them to a Google Slide. Rotate a few to make it more interesting, then share with your students. You can also add a template image as the background to help students locate where to put each piece.


Women in Science Resources for Middle Schoolers

Throughout history, women have made significant contributions to the field of science. Despite facing discrimination and obstacles, these women have broken down barriers and paved the way for future generations of female scientists. March is Women’s History Month and what better time to celebrate the women who have made science history!

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was a British chemist and X-ray crystallographer who made critical contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA. Her X-ray crystallography images were used by James Watson and Francis Crick in their 1953 model of the DNA molecule, which earned them the Nobel Prize. Unfortunately, Franklin did not receive credit for her contributions until after her death.

Marie M. Daly

Marie Daly was an American biochemist who became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States. She was also known for her research on the effects of cholesterol and the role of the circulatory system in heart attacks.

mae jemisonMae Jemison

Mae Jemison is an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut. In 1992, she became the first African American woman to travel in space, serving as a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie was a Polish physicist and chemist who conducted groundbreaking research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and is the only person to have won Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields (physics and chemistry).

alice ballAlice Ball

Alice Ball was an African American chemist who developed the first effective treatment for leprosy, a disease that had previously been considered incurable. She died at a young age, but her research paved the way for future treatments.

Tu Youyou

Tu Youyou is a Chinese scientist and medical researcher who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015 for her discovery of artemisinin, a drug that has significantly reduced the mortality rates of malaria worldwide.  She received her education at Peking University Medical School and the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, where she specialized in herbal medicine. In the early 1960s, Tu was recruited to work on a secret project to find a cure for malaria, a disease that was prevalent in China at the time. She and her team scoured ancient Chinese medical texts, searching for plants that might contain anti-malarial properties. After years of research, Tu identified artemisinin, a compound derived from the sweet wormwood plant. Artemisinin could rapidly reduce the number of malaria parasites in the blood, providing an effective treatment for the disease. In 2015, Tu was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her contributions to this discovery.

Katherine Johnsonkatherine johnson

Katherine Johnson was an African American mathematician who worked for NASA and was instrumental in the success of the first U.S. manned spaceflights. She was also a key figure in the development of the first computer programs used by NASA.

Sally Ride

Sally Ride was an American astronaut, physicist, and the first American woman to travel to space. Ride made her first trip to space on June 18, 1983, as a crew member on the space shuttle Challenger. She was the first American woman and the third woman overall to travel to space. During the mission, Ride operated the shuttle’s robotic arm and helped to deploy communication satellites.

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist and author, best known for her groundbreaking book, “Silent Spring,” which exposed the dangers of pesticides, particularly the insecticide DDT, on the environment, and on human and wildlife health. The book caused a stir in the scientific and political communities and is credited with sparking the modern environmental movement. “Silent Spring” led to a ban on the use of DDT in the United States and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970.

Caroline Herschel

Caroline Herschel was a German-born British astronomer who made significant contributions to the field of astronomy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. She worked with her brother William. Together, they made many important discoveries, including the discovery of the planet Uranus in 1781. Caroline Herschel also made significant contributions to the field of astronomy on her own. She discovered several comets, including Comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet, and was the first woman to be paid for her scientific work, when King George III granted her a salary for her work as an assistant to her brother.

Highlight these incredible women and more with these two resources on sale until the end of March!

women in science picture walk

women in science boom cards cover and thubms (3)

Digital Word Search Puzzles

When I was a child, my grandmother bought me a word search book and I would spend hours finding words and getting lost in the puzzle. As I grew older, I discovered the world of digital word search puzzles and I’ve never looked back.

Benefits of Digital Word Search Puzzles in middle school

But it wasn’t until I became a teacher that I realized the potential of digital word search puzzles as enrichment activities for early finishers. These puzzles provide students with a fun and engaging way to improve their vocabulary and spelling skills.

Word find puzzles are a fun and engaging way to improve your vocabulary and spelling skills. These puzzles, which can be found online or in mobile apps, present a grid of letters with hidden words scattered throughout. The goal is to find and highlight all of the words in the list as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The convenience of digital word search puzzles is another advantage. Students can access them on their computer or mobile device, and they don’t require any special equipment or materials. This means they can play them anywhere, anytime, whether they are at home, on the bus, or waiting in line.

Another great feature of digital word search puzzles is that they are interactive and provide instant feedback. Students get the satisfaction of finding the words and an instant score or progress report. Some digital word search puzzles also have time limits, adding an extra level of challenge and making them a fun way to improve their speed and focus.

How to use word searches in your classroom

I try to have a few content related digital word search puzzles ready for early finishers. They’re even useful for kids who just need a time out from some more frustrating activity.

Here are some word search puzzles I’ve used in my classroom:

In addition to being fun and interactive, digital word search puzzles can also be a great tool for improving cognitive skills. Searching for words in the grid helps to improve visual and spatial awareness, while finding the words improves spelling and vocabulary.

Overall, digital word search puzzles are a great way to challenge yourself and improve your cognitive skills while having fun. They are accessible, customizable and interactive, making them a great choice for people of all ages. So, next time you’re looking for a fun and engaging way to entertain your early finishers, give digital word search puzzles a try! If you still need convincing, here’s a link to try 2 free digital word search puzzles in your classroom today!

What is March Mammal Madness?

A few years ago, right at the end of the winter blues, I discovered March Mammal Madness. March Mammal Madness (MMM) is a popular educational activity for middle and high school science classes. It is a bracket-style competition that is modeled after the NCAA basketball tournament and is used to teach students about different mammal species and the characteristics that make them unique. I signed up to participate (it’s free) and launched my seventh graders into one of those experiences kids talk about for YEARS!

March Mammal Madness, whose logo is “If you’re learning, you’re winning,”  is designed as a bracket-style competition that is modeled after the NCAA basketball tournament. In this activity, students research 64 different species which compete in a tournament designed by Kr. Katie Hinde of Arizona State University in 2013. The species are divided into four regions (similar to the NCAA basketball tournament) and a bracket is created.

How March Mammal Madness works

The battles in MMM are based on the characteristics of the competing species. Each round, students research information about the characteristics of the competing species and must use this information to decide which species they believe is best suited to advance to the next round. These battles can include:

  • Hunting and feeding habits;
  • Reproductive strategies;
  • Adaptation to different environments;
  • Behavioral characteristics such as social behavior or communication methods;
  • Overall survival strategy.

Throughout the month of March, battles are live-tweeted (#2023MMM) and video recaps are produced 2-3 times per week. Students follow along on their brackets and earn points for each battle they correctly participated. We kept an advancing bracket in the back of our classroom and it became quite the subject of discussion.

March Mammal Madness

Benefits of participating in March Mammal Madness

These battles in MMM are meant to be a fun and engaging way to teach students about different mammal species and the characteristics that make them unique. It also helps students develop critical thinking skills, teamwork, and collaboration among students.

As the tournament progresses, the competition becomes more difficult and the characteristics that students must consider become more complex. 

The MMM activity is not just a fun and engaging way to teach students about different mammal species, but also helps students develop critical thinking skills. By having to consider multiple factors and make decisions based on evidence, students are forced to think critically about the information they are presented with.

Additionally, the activity helps to promote teamwork and collaboration among students. Often, students will work in small groups to research and make decisions about which species to advance. This allows students to share their knowledge and learn from one another, which can be especially helpful for students who may be struggling with the material.

Last year, my kids love MMM so much that they created their own May Mammal Madness. They designed their own brackets, wrote the battles, and even made video recaps of each battle.

A freebie to get your class excited

I kicked off this year’s MMM tournament with a rousing game of animal kingdom trivia. Kids were so excited, and they are ready for the battles to begin!

If you’d like to play trivia with your students, click here to download my game! Just be sure to comment below and let me know what you thought!

How to Participate

Everything you need to know is on the official MMM website which can be found here.  


Overall, March Mammal Madness is a fun and engaging way to teach middle school students about different mammal species and the characteristics that make them unique. I hope you participate this year!

For more information

Katie Hinde (2021) Education and Outreach: March Mammal Madness and the power of narrative in science outreach. eLife 10:e65066.


Valentine’s Day Science Activities for Middle Schoolers

Do your seventh graders cast longing glances at each other, giggle without warning, and whisper in the halls? It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and, while love might not be on full display in the halls of my middle school, there’s a little bit of romance brewing here and there. I like to use whatever my students are interested in to help them make connections between their world and science, but Valentine’s Day is tricky. Here are a few Valentine’s Day science activities for your middle schoolers.

Valentine’s Day science of love and attraction

Valentine’s Day is a great segue into human anatomy, neurotransmitters, and feedback mechanisms. The brain releases certain chemicals, such as dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin, when we experience romantic attraction or love. These chemicals are responsible for the feelings of euphoria and pleasure associated with being in love. Additionally, the hormone testosterone plays a role in attraction for both men and women. Understanding the biology of love and attraction can help us better understand our own feelings and experiences of love. Furthermore, the study of pheromones, chemicals that are secreted by animals and can affect the behavior of other animals, can also be related to Valentine’s Day. Pheromones can play a role in attraction and mating behaviors in animals, and some scientists believe that they may also play a role in human attraction.

Valentine’s Day science of Chocolate and flowers

It’s hard to separate Valentine’s Day from boxes of chocolate and bouquets of flowers, and this can also be a great opportunity to explore the science behind these things. I like to use roses as a springboard to talk about genetic engineering, heredity, and Punnett Squares. You could even talk about flower preservation or classification of flowers.

Here’s a jigsaw activity I’ve done for the last few years. Students read a short article about the science of Valentine’s Day and answer Discussion Questions. Then, each person in the group shares what they learned. It includes 5 articles – The science of chocolate, Animal mating rituals, The science of love, How does the hart work, and The science of roses.the science of valentines day

Valentine’s Day science of how hearts work

Another fun lesson for Valentine’s Day is cardiac structure. Do a virtual tour of the chambers of the heart or have students compare mammalian, reptilian and avian hearts.

The Science of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day may not be immediately associated with science, but there are several scientific concepts that can be explored. The science of neurotransmitters, hormones, chocolate and flowers are all great ways to connect this holiday to your students!

Trivia games in middle school science

trivia in middle school scienceI love bar trivia. If you’ve never played, bar trivia is a popular form of entertainment where patrons gather at a bar or pub to participate in a trivia game. These games are typically hosted by a trivia master or DJ and consist of multiple rounds of questions covering a variety of topics such as history, pop culture, sports, and science. Participants can form teams and compete against each other for prizes or simply enjoy the game with friends. The atmosphere at a bar trivia night is usually lively and social, making it a fun way to spend an evening out. I love the competition and the excitement of knowing a random piece of information and I wanted to include Trivia games in my middle school science classroom.

Playing trivia games in middle school science can be an effective way to incorporate some fun into your classroom. They can be used as a review tool to reinforce key concepts, introduce new information, or as a form of assessment.

Trivia to reinforce concepts

trivia in middle school science

One way to use trivia games in science class is to create a game that focuses on the current unit of study. When using trivia to review and reinforce, students love creating clever team names and competing for prizes. For example, if the class is studying the solar system, the teacher could create a trivia game that covers facts about the planets, their moons, and their orbits. This can help students retain important information and make connections between different celestial bodies.  As a formative assessment, trivia is a more engaging and less stressful way to assess student learning than traditional tests or quizzes.

In addition to creating their own trivia games, teachers can also use pre-made games or apps to incorporate trivia into their science lessons. For example, Quizlet is a popular app that allows teachers to create and share flashcards, quizzes, and games with their students. It can be used to review material, reinforce key concepts, or introduce new information. I played “Dinosaur Trivia” with my seventh graders on the day before the geologic time assessment.

Trivia for SEL

Finally, trivia games can also be used to build teamwork and collaboration among students. Social-emotional learning is always on my mind these days. Kids forgot how to communicate and collaborate, and using a competitive game helps my middle schoolers practice those skills. This can help students learn to work together, communicate effectively, and build a sense of camaraderie in the classroom. Trivia games are also fun to play on that day before a holiday or a break. I use general knowledge trivia games like “How much do you know about Earth Day.

Human Body Trivia Game

How to play a trivia game with your middle schoolers

1. Divide your class into teams.

2. Have each team choose a team name and write it on 4 sheets of paper – one sheet of paper for each round of play.

3. Share the round 1 questions. I use a Slide Show so I can include cute images or clipart. As you share the questions, allow teams to discuss and write their answers on the response card for round 1.

4. Collect round 1 response cards and score them. I like to enter scores on a digital score card, but writing scores on the white board works just fine.

5. Share the round 1 answers. Again, I use the Slide Show.

6. Repeat for rounds 2, 3, and 4.

7. Announce the winners. Write their team name on a fun confetti filled slide or give them noise makers for the last minute or two of class.

Try a free trivia game here

I created an animal kingdom trivia game to introduce March Mammal Madness (If you’ve never played MMM, it’s fantastic – my students talk about it for YEARS! More about MMM in a later blog post). Students compete in 4 rounds of play – collective names for animal groups, domesticated animals, animals of sea and sky, and apex predators. There are 5 questions per round. You can download a free copy of the Animal Kingdom trivia game here.

animal kingdom trivia

Overall, trivia games can be a great way to make science education fun and engaging for middle school students. They can be used to review material, reinforce key concepts, introduce new information, and assess student learning. Additionally, they can also be used to build teamwork and collaboration among students. Teachers can use a variety of methods to incorporate trivia games into their science lessons, such as creating their own games, using pre-made games or apps, and dividing the class into teams. How do you play trivia games in your classroom?

How to teach CER in middle school science

I got an email from a language arts teacher/coworker last week. She said she was using the CER (Claim Evidence Reasoning) framework for persuasive essays and asked if there is any common ground between our curricula. I nearly jumped for joy! CER is a technique for writing a lab conclusion in which students state their claim, provide the evidence supporting their claim, and then explain the reasoning that connects their evidence to their claim. CER is the best way for middle school students to structure their lab conclusions because it wraps lab evidence and science reasoning together with a claim. I love it because, when it’s used properly, CER forces students to make a claim and provide evidence that relates to it – skills that are noticeably absent in my 7th graders, especially this year. Here’s how I teach CER in my middle school science classroom.

What is a CER?

Claim, evidence, reasoning (CER) is a method of teaching critical thinking and scientific literacy that helps students to understand how to make and support scientific claims. The CER method involves three main components: a claim, evidence, and reasoning. A CER is a model for writing scientifically. In a CER, students must make a claim, justify their answer with data, and then connect the data with scientific reasoning. In language arts, this kind of writing is called persuasive writing.

The claim is the student’s answer to a question – what is the effect of mass on acceleration, or how do substances travel through a cell membrane.  It is simply a claim – no reasoning or explanation necessary. The claim is the “What I believe” portion of the CER. The claim is a statement that is being made about a scientific concept or phenomenon. It is a statement of what is believed to be true about a particular topic. For example, a claim might be that plants need sunlight to grow.

The evidence is the data that the students provides to support their claim – the measurements of acceleration taken on model racecars of two different masses or the observations of onion cells in salt water. The evidence provided can be qualitative or quantitative depending on the question being asked. In other words, the evidence is the “What I see” portion of the CER. Evidence is the data or information that is used to support the claim. This can include data from experiments, observations, or research studies. For example, evidence to support the claim that plants need sunlight to grow might include data from experiments showing that plants grown in a sunny location grow taller and have more leaves than plants grown in a shaded location.

The reasoning explains how or why the evidence supports the student’s claim – if a more massive racecar didn’t accelerate as fast as a lower mass racecar, then an increased mass reduces acceleration. If onion cells in salt water are shriveled, then water moves out through a cell membrane in hypertonic solutions. In other words, the reasoning is the “What it means” portion of the CER. The reasoning should include an explanation of the underlying science concept of the claim and evidence. Reasoning is the explanation of how the evidence supports the claim. It is the process of connecting the evidence to the claim and explaining why the evidence supports the claim. For example, the reasoning for the claim that plants need sunlight to grow might be that the energy from the sun is used by the plant to produce food through photosynthesis, which is essential for the plant’s growth.

The CER method can be used to teach students how to evaluate scientific information and to develop their own scientific arguments. By teaching students how to make claims, find evidence to support their claims, and reason about how the evidence supports their claims, teachers can help students to become more critical thinkers and to develop a deeper understanding of scientific concepts.

Additionally, the CER method can be used to help students to communicate their scientific understanding to others. By learning how to clearly state their claims, present evidence to support their claims, and explain their reasoning, students can effectively communicate their understanding of scientific concepts to others, which is an important skill for scientists and science students.

Introducing CER in middle school science

A commonly used CER introduction in middle school is the “My dad’s an alien” advertisement which you can see on Youtube by clicking here. In this fantastic example, a little girl makes the claim that her father is an alien. She has lots of evidence including the weird noises he makes while gargling and his strange clothes.  While this ad does a great job connecting a claim with evidence, the reasoning must be inferred – normal dads don’t make those weird noises or wear strange clothes so he must be an alien. It’s a great way to begin to teach CER in middle school science.

Present students with other CER examples and have them analyze each examples by identifying the claims, evidence, and reasoning.

Fun CERs to learn with

cer templateAfter students have analyzed sample CERs, introduce them to a CER template. Download a simple template here or create your own.

The easiest way to get students to learn and practice the format of a CER is by using non-science content. Find ideas that students have prior knowledge of to provide a low barrier of entry. Make it interesting so that students are motivated to make a claim. Here are some ideas:

What’s happening in this photo? Present students with an image and ask them what’s happening and how they know that it’s happening. For example, ask students what animal made these footprints:

polar bear footprints

A reasonable claim is that a polar bear made the footprints. The evidence that is observable is that the foot appears to have toes and that it is made in the snow. The reasoning a student might provide is that bears are the only animals that live in snowy areas have feet shaped like this.

Here’s another example of how to teach CER in middle school science:

Claim: These two people are at a Christmas party.

Evidence: They appear happy and there is confetti in the air. They are wearing Santa hats.

Reasoning. We know it is a party because people throw confetti and appear happy at parties. We know it is Christmas time because the people are wearing Santa hats which people only wear at Christmas time.

Is a hot dog a sandwich? Students will need to pick a side, yes or no, and then defend it. They will have to define what a sandwich is and then apply the definition to the their experience of a hot dog by using the CER format. One response might be:

  • Claim – Yes, hot dogs are sandwiches.
  • Evidence – Hot dogs are bread and a filling.
  • Reasoning – Sandwiches are made of bread and a filling.

Is salsa a soup? An example of a response could be:

  • Claim – No, salsa is not a soup.
  • Evidence – Salsa is not eaten with a spoon.
  • Reasoning – Soup is eaten with a spoon.

Which invention is more important – television or airplane flight?

Which sport is more popular – soccer or American football?

Should students learn cursive in school?


CER Science examples

Once you’ve introduced the format of a CER and students have had opportunities to practice with general knowledge, it’s time to introduce some science-based CERs. Start out with more accessible science topics before you advance to having students use the CER technique for more formal lab conclusions. These are more complicated than the general knowledge CER examples because students will have to use more complicated analytical thinking to support their claims. Here are some examples:

  • Vegetarian diets are healthier for you.
  • Chicken soup is a good remedy for a cold.
  • The space program isn’t worth how much money it costs.
  • Electric cars will become more common in the future.
  • Social media is harmful to students.
  • Vinegar repels mosquitoes.


Tips for Using CER in the Classroom

Here are some tips to make it easier to teach CER in middle school science:

  • Ask students to highlight their claim in yellow, their evidence in green, and their reasoning in blue. Not only will it help students ensure that they have the three required parts to their CER,  it will also make it easier for you to grade!
  • The reasoning part of the CER is the hardest part for students to master. Provide them with sentence stems such as:
    • “This evidence supports my claim because…”
    • “I know this is true because…”
    • “Therefore…”
    • “This is important because…”
    • “The evidence suggests that…”
    • “Based on the evidence, I can infer….”

free c-e-r template

When you teach CER in middle school science, you are using a powerful teaching tool that can help students to develop critical thinking and scientific literacy skills. By learning how to make claims, find evidence to support their claims, and reason about how the evidence supports their claims, students can develop a deeper understanding of scientific concepts and become more critical thinkers. Additionally, the CER method can be used to help students to effectively communicate their scientific understanding to others.


Claim Evidence Reasoning CER Writing Practice for Middle School Science

Book Review: The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks

Engaging kids is challenging. I love science, but not everyone finds it as interesting as I do. It’s so frustrating when I’ve crafted a lesson that I think is so interesting and it falls flat. It’s tough to engage middle schoolers in science. One of the quickest ways I’ve found to get kids interested in science, though, is by story telling. So I tell them about Gregor Mendel and describe (what I imagine) life at the monastery was like. I tell them about Galileo’s house arrest and that Rosalind Franklin never won a Nobel Prize. Sometimes, they remember the house arrest but forget what Galileo did,  but, for the most part, story telling helps kids relate to and remember the science.

Which is why I picked up this book. The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks by Donald R. Prothero was published in 2018.


The premise of the book is that the author has chosen 25 events in history that have a type of rock as a pivotal component. Each chapter is devoted to the story of one of those 25 rocks and the events in history it precipitated. It’s told in the style of a story teller, which appeals to me, but it also combines history, sociology, and geology in a way that is engaging and thought provoking. This is not a stuffy science-y text book. It is instead a series of short stories, elegantly told and woven into a fabric.

The book starts with a bang. Chapter 1 is called “Volcanic Tuff” and it tells the story of the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius as reported by Pliny the Younger recording for posterity what his uncle, Pliny the Elder, saw and did during the eruption.

Later chapters explore native copper in which Prothero tells the story of Otzi the Ice Man, a fossilized hiker found in 1991 in the Austrian Alps. Otzi was carrying a copper bladed ax which dated him to the Copper Age. Tracing the evolution of human ingenuity from the Stone Age through today, Prothero describes early copper mining in Cyprus and the connection to copper formation and the mid-Atlantic ridge. Each chapter tells another level in the discovery of how the rocks reveal the story of the earth’s history.

This was an absolutely fabulous read – gripping in a way that non-fiction rarely is to me.

Human Body Systems Resources for Middle School

Middle and high school students need a working knowledge of the parts of the human body and how they interact, yet often times science teachers are ill prepared to help students with this content. There are 12 systems of the human body, and for each system, teachers need a slide show and notes, a hands on activity, review activities, and an assessment. For some teachers, the content is overwhelming and the prospect of teaching lists of body parts for students to memorize is daunting. These human body systems resources for middle school are all simple, no prep activities to reinforce the structure and function of the parts of the human body.

The NGSS standard MS-LS1-3 requires that middle school students be able to “Use argument supported by evidence for how the body is a system of interacting subsystems composed of groups of cells.” Aside from the levels of organization, this standard asks that students be comfortable with the parts of the human anatomy and how they function together.  And on the high school level, HS-LS1-2 asks students to be able to “develop and use a model to illustrate the hierarchical organization of interacting systems that provide specific functions within multicellular organisms.”

While the structure and function of each of the body systems is best learned independent of each other, the entire organism as a compilation of organ systems is an important first step. Click here to download a free human body systems worksheet!

For each of the individual systems, students need practice. To develop a working knowledge of each of the systems of the human body, Team JustAddH2O has been working hard to ensure that our students have access to materials they need to succeed. Here are the resources we’ve already prepared and the resources we’re working on:

Self-grading Assessment Boom Cards (digital flash cards) Interactive Slide Show color by number crossword puzzle Pixel Art
skeletal system skeletal system assessment skeletal system boom cards skeletal system color by number skeletal system crossword puzzle
endocrine system endocrine system assessment endocrine system boom cards endocrine system crossword puzzle
integumentary system integumentary system assessment integumentary system boom cards integumentary systemcrossword puzzle
urinary system urinary system assessment urinary system boom cards urinary system crossword puzzle
cardiovascular system cardiovascular system assessment cardiovascular system boom cards cardiovascular system color by number cardiovascular system crossword puzzle
male repro male reproductive system assessment male reproductive system boom cards male repro system crossword puzzle
femal repro female reproductive system assessment female reproductive system boom cards female repro system crossword puzzle
nervous nervous system assessment nervous system boom cards nervous system color by number nervous system crossword puzzle
respiratory system respiratory system assessment respiratory system boom cards respiratory system crossword puzzle
muscular system muscular system assessment muscular system boom cards muscular system crossword puzzle
lymphatic system lymphatic system assessment lymphatic system boom cards lymphatic system crossword puzzle
digestive system digestive system assessment digestive system boom cards digestive system interactive notes digestive system color by number digestive system crossword puzzle digestive system pixel art worksheet

You can see we still have a few holes to patch with a few missing resources. If there’s a resource that’s missing that you’re eager to get on our list, let us know here!