Incorporating Halloween and CER into the Science Classroom

Engage students on Halloween with an experiment and CER writing strategy



Halloween is the first holiday of the school year. Teachers are left with the decision to acknowledge and celebrate the holiday even though they are nervous about maintaining classroom control or act as if it isn’t happening at all.

As a science teacher, I feel Halloween is the perfect day to perform a hands on demonstration or lab station activity. Keeping the students engaged in a fun activity will keep negative behaviors at bay. Of course, it is necessary to review your rules and procedures with your students prior to starting the activity, but students will be motivated to complete the assignment so this normally isn’t an issue.

This time of year, my students are studying chemical and physical changes. One of my favorite units because of all the hands-on experiences that can be had while working on this activity, I decided this was an easy unit to incorporate Halloween into.

Incorporating fun activities into Halloween will excite the students, but as a teacher, I still need to make sure the activity is applicable to the standard and fits into my curriculum. While I had the student engagement aspect of my activity, I needed to integrate it into my curriculum. Using the CER strategy, allowed me to do so seamlessly.

There are three parts to this activity. Before starting the activity, we review the signs of a chemical change. This will help them later determine which type of change in matter is occurring. The first part was a class demonstration given by me and the following two activities, students worked in small groups. During the demonstration, I modeled what the students needed to do for the following parts of the activity.

elephants toothpaste is the perfect halloween activity for chemical and physical changes


Students of any age are always amazed at the simple demonstration of creating “elephant’s toothpaste”. (If you are unsure how to make it, instructions are in the freebie below). Using the CER strategy, I had my students make a claim as to whether the reaction was a chemical or physical change. If you need more information on how to implement the CER method, this post will help you. We discussed the evidence from the demonstrations that could be used to support their claim and backed it with scientific reasoning.

From there, students complete two other activities on their own. One is using pumpkin candies in water and the other one is activating a glowstick.
Glow sticks add fun and engagement to motivate students in understanding chemical and physical changes.

Each of these activities work seamlessly into the Halloween theme. Students loved it and honestly, I was OBSERVED on Halloween using this lesson. Students were excited but they were on task and manageable and I think it was impressive to administration to see how students can still be engaged in learning while completing a Halloween inspired activity in the science classroom.

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    holidays in the grade 4, 5, 6 science classrooms


    How to Implement CER in Your Science Classroom


    Improve grade 4, 5, 6 written responses with the claim evidence reasoning strategy.


    As a science teacher with a master’s degree in Literacy, one of my passions is to authentically bring in reading and writing skills into the curriculum without compromising the fun, hands-on nature of science. Some ways I incorporate these skills are through readings to build background knowledge and comprehension of the concept we are learning about. I also like to use sketch notes to allow students to summarize and synthesize their knowledge.

             Writing skills have often been neglected when it comes to science until the CER strategy came along. Using this method, I now have a succinct way to teach my students how to respond to a topic, give evidence, and tie it to scientific reasoning.

    What is CER?


    CER stands for claim, evidence, reasoning.

    Students are given a hands-on activity. Upon completing the activity, they will demonstrate their scientific knowledge and be able to answer the prompt and incorporate important writing skills also needed in ELA. 

    Here is an example

    The students are learning about chemical and physical changes. They are working together to complete an activity that has them determine whether a chemical or physical change is happening. Students complete the experiment and then fill out their sheet using the CER method.

    Their response could be:

    Claim: Students state whether a chemical or physical change occurred. A chemical change occurred.

    Evidence: Students use evidence from the activity to demonstrate that their claim is accurate. Once the glowstick was activated, there was a change in color. (Depending on the activity, there may be more evidence to include. More evidence requires another sentence or two to support the claim).

    Reasoning: Students will use their scientific reasoning to explain the connection between the claim and evidence. One way to tell if a chemical change occurred is by observing a color change, therefore when the glowstick was activated, the change in color indicates a chemical change.
    Classroom decor, graphic organizers, rubric, student reference sheets needed to help implement the CER writing strategy into the grade 4, 5, 6 science classroom

    Using this method, student responses varied in 3-7 sentences. It cut down on lengthy written work that often didn't explicitly answer the question being asked. Now, in some cases, students are writing less, but their writing is more meaningful as it clearly answers the question being asked of them. As a teacher, it allows me to be able to quickly identify who understands the scientific principle we are working on and who needs more assistance. This allows me to pull small groups together to explain and discuss their thinking. 

    This method really worked with my students because of the formula-like written response. It also doesn’t require an extended response to show their scientific knowledge and thinking. It is clear and concise and I love how these skills will transfer over into their ELA class when they are writing their argument essays. 
    Free graphic organizer and student writing formula sheet to help you easily implement the CER strategy into your middle school science class

    Looking for materials to get started? Join my science tribe by adding your first name and email address below and instantly receive a student graphic organizer and CER formula response sheet into your inbox for F-R-E-E!




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      If you need teacher tips, classroom decor posters, student reference sheets, a graphic organizer, a formula response sheet, and a rubric then you might want to check out the materials below. 


      CER claim evidence reasoning materials for the upper elementary student

      Back to School Tips for the Science Teacher




      First year and even veteran teachers can stress out in the weeks leading up the back to school season. There are so many things to consider when getting ready for the first day of school. First of all there is your classroom, in which you want to create a safe, warm environment for your students to feel comfortable in, but there are so many other aspects probably more important ones to consider. Classroom management, what will you do on the first day of school, what supplies will you need? These are all questions that can keep us up worrying about how to get it all done.

             Luckily, I will share with you what works in my classroom to help you navigate and make this back to school season is a successful one.

      Classroom Décor:


      5 classroom decor ideas for the grade 4, 5, 6, and 7 science teacher
      While classroom décor is certainly not THE most important part of getting ready for the school year, it should play a role. Students don’t need much, but I really believe that you need to put in some effort to make your classroom look like a place where your students will be comfortable and show that YOU want to be there. Learn more about how I decorate my classroom with a purpose here


      Classroom Supplies:

      Once your classroom is done, you need to think about the supplies
      Classroom supplies that first year teachers don't even know they need to have
      you’ll need throughout the school year. Sometimes this can be overwhelming, and I know I always forget something Read about my list of 5 must haves here. (This is especially great for first-year teachers that might not anticipate the need for some of these supplies). 


      Classroom Management:

      How to keep control of your classroom with management strategies that really work
      I think hands down; this is the foundation of your teaching. If you don’t have failproof classroom management strategies, then you are going to encounter many problems throughout the school year. It is true, students can sense fear and they will try to take advantage. After teaching for 13 years, read through some of the tips that help me keep my sanity


      Classroom Jobs:

      Yes, you can have classroom jobs in upper elementary and middle
      Having classroom jobs in the grade 4, 5, 6, and 7 science classroom
      school classrooms. It might not be for everyone, but it could be a good way to maintain control of your classroom and teach students how to be responsible. If you are interested in trying this in your classroom, read on to learn about some of the jobs you can implement in the science classroom


      Building Personal Relationships:

      Building relationships with your upper elementary and middle school students on the first day of school
      Ok, I lied. This is probably more important than classroom management. I feel that if you have taken the time to build relationships with your students, then you’ve already scored a huge piece of the classroom management pie. Read on to learn how I make connections with my students


      So now you know how to start your school year off on the right
      five ways to get to know your students to build relationship in the classroom
      foot before students arrive. But what will you do with them once they are in your classroom? Here are five different icebreaker activities that you can choose from to use on the first day of school. These are great ways to get to know your students and build relationships with them. 


      I hope sharing what I have learned throughout my career is helpful to you. Is there anything I missed? Is there something that you do differently that works for you? Let me know in the comments below. I love hearing from my readers!





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        How to Teach a Unit on States of Matter

        Learn how to teach your grade 4, 5, 6, and 7 students a hands on, engaging unit on phases of matter

                 States of matter is often one of the first “real” science units of the year for students. After learning about lab safety and measurement, they dive deep into learning about solids, liquids, and gases. No matter what time of year you teach this unit, it is important to make it engaging. Often, with state testing and all the other burdens that teaching brings, science can be left on the back burner or pressured into incorporating more and more literacy. There is a way to do both. In my science classroom, literacy is an integral part of the learning process, but so is a hands-on approach. Read on to learn about how I try to juggle the two without the students knowing.

        Introduction: 

                 It is difficult to understand what kind of background knowledge students are bringing into your classroom. Two things that I do are: 
        • Engage them in some type of phenomena. This is great to work in the NGSS criteria into your curriculum. For this unit, I like this Youtube video that discusses how a liquid can show all three states of matter at relatively the same time. It really sparks their interest. 
        • Introduce and discuss important vocabulary terms. This helps all students understand important concepts related to the unit. 
          • Some important terms should include: solid, liquid, gas, condensation, evaporation


        Building on Their Knowledge: 


        I like to continually build upon their knowledge. This is also where I build upon their literacy skills. Students will read to learn about the characteristics and behavior of solids, liquids, and gases. Embedded in each reading are comprehension questions to continually assess their knowledge of these concepts. Literacy is important and learning to read and understand nonfiction text is an important skill for students to have. 

        Now, comes the fun stuff. It is debatable as to whether you want to start with hands-on activities first or the meat and potatoes of learning about the topic. I find for my struggling learners, learning about the topic carries them farther. 

        Students will work in stations to complete different hands on activities. The videos give you ideas on how to easily implement this into your classroom without breaking your budget. 






        Review: 

        Reviewing the concepts learned is important because the students will use the information they learned from this unit and apply it to other teaching units like chemical and physical changes

        There are a few ways I like to review: 

        Sketch Notes:

        I like using sketch notes because it allows students to use both sides of their brains. The sketch notes that I use are similar to graphic organizers that allow students to get their thoughts down and doodle or sketch reminders around it. I also give students time to color in their notes. All of this allows both sides of their brain to make connections to the concept. Since both sides are working, they are making deeper connections to the task in front of them which will instill a stronger comprehension of the topic. 

        Making a states of matter unit fun, hands on, and engaging using sketch notes

        Color by Number Activities

        These are great because they are self checking. They are ideal for sub plans, homework, or as an extra help review. Often, you can also incorporate a holiday into your curriculum. My students love completing these, even in middle school! 

        Flipbooks

        I like using flipbooks in my units because it allows students to summarize the concepts that they learned and have an easy to use review right at their fingertips. Students are again displaying their knowledge of states of matter, but they can also color it in if they choose to again get both sides of that brain to work on an activity. 

        Task Cards

        Task cards are another popular way for students to review. Having a digital and printable version helps students to pick the path that they choose to review. Again, all those important concepts are being reviewed and reinforced so that they can later build on their knowledge. 

        Final notes: 

        There are a lot of review activities that are spoken about here. I pick and choose the ones that will apply to my classroom that year. Some years I just don't have students that like coloring and that is something that I need to respect so I will guide them toward activities that I know they will enjoy. 

        The most important aspect of our teaching is to make sure our students are learning and enjoying the process. You want to tailor as much of the experience as you can to their learning styles, so observe them and see what they enjoy and how you can tap into that. 


        how to teach a unit on states of matter



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        States of Matter FREE Choice Assignments

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