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Possible Writing Lessons
With examples from Seymour Simon's books

Consider using exemplary works by science authors to demonstrate particular mini-lesson topics. Model examples from books by a selected author, then have your students look for additional examples that highlight the topic. Provide students with the opportunity to compare and discuss their findings.

What follows are a few purposive examples of how Seymour Simon's books may be used to show how science writers practice their craft. We have pulled some ideas for mini-lessons and provided the titles, publishing information, and excerpts to support suggested topics for writing mini-lessons using Seymour Simon's books.

Sample Comparisons

Our Solar System, William Morrow, 1992

"Think of this: If Earth were the size of a basketball, the sun would be a giant globe as big as a basketball court."
"It [Magellan] uses a special kind of radar that shows surface details down to the size of a football field."
"If Saturn was hollow, about 750 planet Earths could fit inside."

Stars, William Morrow, 1986

"With powerful telescopes we can see that the stars are as many as the grains of sand on an ocean beach."
"Then, like a piece of popcorn when it 'pops,' the stars balloon out and become hundreds of times larger."
"These groups of stars move through space together like flocks of birds in flight."

Galaxies, William Morrow, 1988

"If a dozen tennis balls were spread out across the United States, they would be more crowded that most of the stars in the Galaxy."
"If you were in a plane going at five hundred miles per hour, it would take you more than one million years to travel just one light-year."
"The ring is formed by the galactic shock wave of the collision, something like the circular ripple a falling rock makes in the water of a pond."

Jupiter, William Morrow, 1985

"The giant spot is probably an enormous storm, a super hurricane more than twice as big as our whole Earth."

Destination Space, HarperCollins, 2002

"These tadpole-shaped clumps of gases (upper right-hand corner) are exploding from a dying star's final outburst."
"The nebula is enormous; it stretches for ten times the diameter of Pluto's orbit around the sun."
"Like a string if firecrackers going off, the clouds of gas light up in a burst of star formation."

Use of Strong Verbs to Enhance the Text

Storms, William Morrow, 1992

"Strong winds shred and flatten the cloud top..."
"The downdraft cuts off the updraft..."
"Soon the rain slows and stops, and the thunderstorm spreads out and dies."
"They [thunderstorms] pump heat..."
"Thunderstorms also cleanse the air and carry life-giving water..."
"The water crashes against the shore..."
"Beaches are washed away..."

Volcanoes, William Morrow, 1988

"Hawaiian volcano lava usually bubbles out quietly to form..."
"Hawaiian volcanoes erupt much more gently..."
"Only rarely does a Hawaiian volcano throw out..."

Icebergs and Glaciers, William Morrow, 1987

"When glaciers move, they grind and crush everything in their path."
"...glaciers cut and carve the land."
"As glaciers move, they often scratch lines into the layers of rock..."
"The cold Alaskan glaciers in this aerial photo creep downhill..."

Earthquakes, William Morrow, 1991

"Government Hill Elementary School was split in two when the ground beneath it dropped. Houses began sliding apart, cracks in the pavement opened and closed like huge jaws, the ground rolled in huge waves."

Use of Photographs and Diagrams to Clarify and Extend Text

Mountains, William Morrow, 1994

"The top half of this satellite photograph shows part of the Himalayan range..."
"These mountains usually have a steep face on one side and a more gentle slope on the other side. The Sierra Nevada and the Grand Tetons of Wyoming (shown here) are examples of fault-block mountains."
"Terraces are small fields that have been cut into the steep sides of the mountains."

Iceberg and Glaciers, William Morrow, 1987

"The cold Alaskan glaciers in this aerial photo creep downhill at only about six inches per year."
"The two main kinds have Hawaiian names. Thick, slow-moving lava called aa (AH-aa) hardens into a rough tangle of sharp rocks. Thin, hot quick-moving lava called pahoehoe (pah-HO-ee-ho-ee) forms a smooth, billowy surface."

Snakes, HarperCollins, 1992

"Snakes, such as this emerald tree boa, are often colorful..."
"Small snakes, such as this yellow rat snake, can eat insects. lizard, birds and their eggs, fish, and rodents."

Whales, HarperCollins, 1989

"This humpback whale is breaching-jumping almost clear out of the water and then crashing down in a huge spray of foam."

Big Cats, HarperCollins, 1991

"This female puma is nursing her two-and-a-half-week-old cubs in a rock den in Montana."
"It [the puma] can bring down animals as large as bighorn sheep or elk, and can catch animals as small and quick as this snowshoe hare."

The Paper Airplane Book, Viking Press, Puffin Books, 1971, 1976

"Fold the paper lengthwise (a). Run your thumbnail along the fold to crease it sharply. Open the paper and fold one corner down toward the center (b). Fold the other corner the same way (c).

Effective leads in information writing

Seymour Simon uses a variety of techniques in writing effective leads. The following are a few examples:

*Visualization -- Wolves, HarperCollins, 1993

"Imagine snow falling silently in the great woodlands of North America. The only sounds are from the trees creaking and tossing in the wind. Suddenly the quiet is broken by the eerie howling of a wolf. And all the frightening stories and legends that you've heard about the treacherous and sly wolf and the evil werewolf begin to race through your mind.

*Reader Participation -- The Heart, HarperCollins, 1996

"Make a fist. This is about the size of your heart....Try squeezing a rubber ball with your hand. Squeeze it hard once a second. Your hand will get tired in a minute or two. Yet your heart beats every second of every day."

*Fascinating Facts -- Snakes, HarperCollins,1992

"There are about twenty-five hundred different kinds of snakes in the world. Some people think all snakes are poisonous. But in fact, only a few hundred kinds are poisonous, and only about fifty of these are really dangerous to humans."

*Contradiction/Paradox -- Mountains, HarperCollins, 1994

"Mountains are a dramatic reminder of ages past and ages to come. They seem to be solid and unchanging, but they are not everlasting."

*Drama/Suspense -- Wildfires, HarperCollins, 1996

"A raging wildfire is a frightening thing. Living trees burn as fast as cardboard boxes in a bonfire. Flames race through the treetops, sometimes faster than a person can run, burning at temperatures hot enough to melt steel."

*Comparison/ Analogy -- Bones, HarperCollins, 1998

"Your bones are like the framework of a building. Without a framework, the building would collapse. Without a skeleton, your body would be nothing more than a heap of muscles and soft tissue.

Using questions in information text

In many of his books, Seymour Simon weaves questions into text seemingly anticipating the questions a reader is thinking about as he or she reads. The following examples demonstrate how questioning can be used effectively as an introduction, transition or conclusion of a text and how questions engage readers in critical thinking.

Earthquakes, HarperCollins, 1991

"Why do most earthquakes in the United States occur in California? The answer lies deep within the earth."

The Universe, HarperCollins, 1998

" Does life exist on Earth-like planets in distant solar systems? Will the universe expand forever or finally stop and then collapse into a gigantic black hole? Searching for answers about the universe is like exploring a dark, mysterious ocean...we are just at the beginning of a golden age of discovery."

Mountains, HarperCollins, 1994

"Mountains are tall, but just how tall does one have to be to be called a mountain? The Himalayan Mountains in central Asia have at least fourteen peaks over 26,000 feet...The Alps of Europe, the Andes of South America, and the Rockies of western North America each have dozens of peaks taller than 10,000 feet."

Wolves, HarperCollins, 1993

"But what is this animal of our imaginations truly like? Are wolves savage and destructive hunters of people and livestock? Or are they one of nature's most misunderstood creatures?"

The Brain, HarperCollins, 1997

"When you touch something hot, your brain tells you how hot it is. But how did your brain find out? Let's follow a single message as it moves through millions of nerve cells from your finger to your brain."

Using descriptive detail in non-fiction writing

Seymour Simon demonstrates the importance of descriptive detail in explaining scientific concepts, capturing the essence of a setting or event and describing phenomena in the natural world. Examples of descriptive detail are abundant in all his texts; the following are just a few such examples.

Icebergs and Glaciers, HarperCollins, 1987

" A single snowflake is a feathery crystal of ice about the size of your fingernail. Every snowflake is six-sided, yet each has a different shape. Once the spinning flakes fall to the ground, they begin to clump together and lose their pointed beauty. Soon the snowflakes become rounded grains of ice with tiny bubbles of air trapped inside."

Spring Across America, Hyperion, 1996 * Out of print

"The sandhill crane is a large bird, more than three feet high with a wingspan of over six feet. With an ash gray body and a head cap of scarlet red, the sandhill crane is one of the most beautiful of North American birds."

Autumn Across America, Hyperion, 1993 * Out of print

"Towering Douglas firs, Sitka spruces, and western hemlocks draped with shaggy mosses and green ferns grow near one another in the valleys of the western Olympics. A green carpet interweaved with dozens of different kinds of mosses covers the ground."

Muscles, HarperCollins, 1998

" Your face and neck have more than thirty different sets of muscles. Most of them are small and are attached to each other...You use certain muscles to express your moods: When two muscles pull up the corners of your mouth, you smile."

These are just a few examples of writing techniques used by Seymour Simon that demonstrate the art and craft of writing non-fiction. Other potential focus lessons include:

The possibilities are endless. We hope you and your students enjoy exploring the author's craft through exemplary trade books.





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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 9912078. 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.