Forty-five states and three territories have adopted the
Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and most states
are now in the process of implementing them (CCSS
Initiative, 2012). CCSS for English Language Arts
(ELA) & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science,
and Technical Subjects, or CCSS for ELA/Literacy,
are designed to extend literacy learning beyond ELA
to other content areas. The CCSS for ELA/Literacy
are not intended to replace content standards but are
designed to supplement them. The result of this effort is
a framework for integrated learning consistent with
This We Believe (National Middle School Association, 2010).
(Editor’s note: This will require targeted professional
development for teachers in all content areas, as Gilles,
Wang, Smith, and Johnson discuss in this issue.)
The integration of literacy skills with science content
has been increasingly emphasized in science education
(see, e.g., Bricker, Rogowski, Hedt, & Rolfe, 2010; Sinatra
& Broughton, 2011), and recent literature has featured
various writing strategies that have been successful for
integrating ELA and science content (Bintz, Wright,
& Sheffer, 2010; Kokkino, Ortiz, Pappas, & Varelas,
2008). This article explores using the RAFT strategy
(Role, Audience, Format, Topic) for writing in science
classes. The framework of the RAFT strategy will be
explained, and connections with CCSS for ELA/Literacy
will be discussed. Finally, there will be a discussion
of a professional learning experience for teachers in
which they implemented the CCSS for ELA/Literacy in middle grades science classes. The teachers used RAFT
strategies to develop instruction about birds of prey,
RAFT is a common writing strategy that was introduced
by Nancy Vandervanter, a middle grades English
teacher, to encourage students to write from different
perspectives (Santa, 1988).
refers to the position of
the author of the piece that is being written. The role
does not necessarily have to be that of a human. The
role could be from the perspective of an animal, a plant,
a rock, a building, or any object.
is the target group for whom the piece is being written. Once again,
the audience does not necessarily have to be human. The
format can vary widely: a wanted poster, a love letter, an
obituary, or a “conversation” between inanimate objects.
The topic is limited only by the imagination of the writer. The RAFT strategy can be extended to RAFTS by including a focus on strong verbs that grab the reader’s attention. The emphasis on strong verbs enables the students to focus their efforts in a particular way. While RAFT was designed to facilitate student writing, using a RAFT strategy with middle grades students is especially effective because it supports reading and writing across the curriculum (Melin & Schiller, 2011; Shellard & Protheroe, 2004) and provides opportunities for students reading below grade level to improve their reading skills (Fisher & Ivey, 2006).
RAFT and CCSS for ELA/Literacy
CCSS for ELA/Literacy has reading standards for
informational texts for each grade level that require
students to analyze a text; draw inferences from a text;
analyze interactions between individuals, events and
ideas; and determine an author’s point of view (CCSS
Initiative 2010). Furthermore, the writing standards for
grades 6, 7, and 8 require students to “Write informative/
explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas,
concepts, and information through the selection,
organization, and analysis of relevant content” (CCSS
Initiative, 2010, p. 42). RAFT writing requires students
to draw inferences and analyze interactions in the texts
as they develop their ideas. As they complete RAFTs,
students will write texts that fulfill the requirements
of the CCSS for ELA/Literacy writing standards. In
addition, RAFTs can support reading development, as
teachers can tailor multiple RAFT assignments to a
single informational text to enable students to gain a
deep understanding, conduct a thorough analysis, and
draw insightful inferences from the source.
RAFT in science instruction
A variety of writing strategies have been implemented
in science classes to integrate and assess science literacy,
including writing in small-group literature circles,
keeping science journals, and creating nonfiction
science books (Kokkino, et al., 2008). For example,
the RAFT strategy has been used in science classes to
enable students to address environmental literacy and
citizenship and to develop skills that will be beneficial
beyond the classroom (Groenke & Puckett, 2006).
RAFTing with Raptors
RAFTing with Raptors was developed through the joint
efforts of three entities: The Center of Excellence for
Adolescent Literacy & Learning at Clemson University;
the Aiken Writing Project (AWP) at the University of
South Carolina Aiken; and the Center of Excellence in
Middle-level Interdisciplinary Strategies for Teaching
(CEMIST), at the Ruth Patrick Science Education
Center (RPSEC). The RPSEC provides various science
and mathematics programs for students and teachers
in the Aiken, South Carolina area and beyond. With
the introduction of the CCSS for ELA/Literacy and
the interdisciplinary emphasis of CE-MIST, the RPSEC began integrating other content areas into the science
and mathematics programs, including ELA and
literacy. During professional development activities in
Aiken County Public Schools, RAFT writing strategies
resonated with the teachers and became more widely
used at the partnering schools.
The confluence of RAFT, the integration of science
and ELA, and the introduction of CCSS resulted in the
use of RAFT with a focus on science literacy during the
annual AWP Summer Institute. For teachers to employ
a new instructional strategy, they must understand the
supporting theory and observe the strategy in practice
(Richards & Skolits, 2009). Thus, teachers in the AWP
Summer Institute were introduced to the theoretical
background of RAFT strategies, were given examples
of RAFTs in practice, and were asked to create RAFTs
based on a science theme. Examples of RAFTs developed
during the Summer Institute are included in Figures 1, 2,
Students in schools near the University of South
Carolina Aiken have had opportunities to visit the
RPSEC for a variety of field trip experiences. One of the
more popular programs has been “Ravenous Raptors.”
Students are introduced to a variety of species of raptors, or birds of prey, by observing images of them projected
on a screen and by interacting with bird field guides.
This style of informational text provided an ELA
connection to the science content presented. Students
were engaged in such a way that the questions they
answered relied on them having read the text with
care (Student Achievement Partners, 2012). After the
introduction to raptors, students were able to explore
salvaged body parts from a variety of raptor species.
Finally, the students were introduced to and permitted
to observe live raptors housed at the RPSEC. As a follow-
up activity, guidelines for a RAFT were developed and
provided to the teachers of the students who attended
the Ravenous Raptors program (see Appendix).
RAFT writing encourages creative thinking and
motivates students to demonstrate understanding in
a nontraditional, yet informational, written format.
This strategy works in all subject areas and is great for differentiation; it can be adjusted for any topic or
skill level. The students have roles to play and, as they
think from the perspective of those roles, they have to
communicate to given audiences using the specified
format and topic. This strategy requires students to
process information and use critical thinking rather
than just writing answers to questions. This helps fulfill
the emphasis on the shared responsibility for students’
literacy development that is promoted by the CCSS
Initiative (2010) and provides a way for content area
teachers to employ ELA strategies to improve student
learning in all subjects.
|This article reflects the following This We Believe characteristics: Meaningful Learning, Multiple Learning Approaches, Varied Assessments
Previously published in Middle School Journal, January 2013
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Gary J. Senn
is an associate professor at the University of South Carolina Aiken and the principal investigator for the Center of Excellence in
Middle-level Interdisciplinary Strategies for Teaching. E-mail: SennG@usca.edu
Deborah H. McMurtrie
teaches at the University of South Carolina Aiken and is the program director for the Center of Excellence in Middle-level
Interdisciplinary Strategies for Teaching. E-mail: DeborahMc@usca.edu
Bridget K. Coleman
is an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina Aiken and a workshop facilitator for the Center of Excellence in
Middle-level Interdisciplinary Strategies for Teaching. E-mail: BridgetC@usca.edu