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Garden Bird Survey: Participants’ Stories Capability: Interpret representations NoS achievement aims: Communicating in science Contextual strands: Living world Level : 5

Landcare Research Science resources

This resource illustrates how text from personal accounts of participation in a citizen science project can provide opportunities for students to strengthen their capability to make sense of representations in the context of science.

Curriculum Aims and AOs

NZC LINKS: The Nature of Science strand


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

Communicating in Science

Develop knowledge of the vocabulary, numeric and symbol systems, and conventions of science and use this knowledge to communicate about their own and other’s ideas.


Engage with a range of science texts and begin to question the purposes for which these texts are constructed.


Apply their understandings of science to evaluate both popular and scientific texts.

NZC LINKS: Living World


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource


Understand how living things interact with each other and with the non-living environment.


Investigate the interdependence of living things (including humans) in an ecosystem. 

Learning focus

Students analyse lay accounts of a data-gathering episode to find contrasts between everyday and scientific prose.

Learning activity

Two stories written by participants in this “citizen science” project provide an accessible opportunity for students to contrast everyday writing styles with those employed by scientists when they formally report on their work. 

Adapting the resource

Print copies of the two participants’ stories or display them in large text on a screen so that everyone can read the words.

As students read a story ask them to highlight words or ideas that they would not expect to see in a formal scientific report. (Use highlighter pens for paper copies or text highlighter if doing this as a screen-based whole-class activity.)

Discuss the highlighted features and why these have been chosen. Examples might be:

  • inclusion of detail irrelevant to the data focus (but that makes for a good story)
  • use of descriptive language that is open to different interpretations by different readers
  • assigning a motive and/or feelings to birds, based on their actions
  • use of emotional language.

Discuss why these features are NOT usually used in scientific reports. What does the scientific style of writing tell us about what is valued in science? [Objectivity, open-mindedness, letting the natural world speak for itself via transparent inquiry processes, etc.]

What’s important here?

The ways of thinking that are valued in science are embodied in the literacy practices of science. (Understanding and using the literacy practices of science supports students to think in new ways.)

The language used in science usually focuses on things and processes (the empirical nature of science) rather than on people’s feelings and opinions. When people write about taking part in science-related experiences they often focus on feelings and rich contextual detail because they have been an important part of their overall experience. It is important that students think about how ideas in and about science are communicated and ask questions such as:

  • What does this representation tell us?
  • What is the purpose for which this representation was made?
  • What sorts of things are included and what is deliberately left out?
  • How does this representation get the message across?

What are we looking for?

Can students identify text features that are typical/ not typical of science writing?

Can they match features of written text to the purposes for which it was written?

Do they show awareness of the effect intended by the communication? (Can they critique the style with the intended genre in mind?)

Opportunities to learn at different curriculum levels

For suggestions about adapting tasks in ways that allow students to show progress in gathering and interpreting data see  Progressions .

Exploring further

The Assessment Resource Banks support material includes a concise summary of the features of science text:

Language of Science (Specialised Language)

This is applied in the assessment tasks  The moa  and  Variable oystercatchers , which both support students to investigate features of written science texts.

The Bioaccumulation resource looks at nominalisation as one specific feature of science text.

Other resources for this capability

Watch Me! (L1) Ready to Read series 2009, Guided Reading level: yellow

Seeds (L1 & 2) Connected 1, 1999

Light and Colour: Our Vision of the World (L1 & 2) Building Science Concepts, Booklet 10

Standing Up: Skeletons and Frameworks (L1 & 2) Building Science Concepts, Booklet 51

An Interview with a Glass of Water (L3 & 4) Connected 2, 2002

Ferns (L3 & 4) Connected 3, 2002

Why Does It Always Rain on Me? (L3 & 4) Connected, Level 3, 2012

Spring is a Season: How Living Things Respond to Seasonal Changes (L3 & 4) Building Science Concepts, Booklet 44

The Air around Us: Exploring the Substance We Live in (L4) Building Science Concepts, Booklet 30

Catch My Drift (L4 & 5) Connected, Level 4, 2012

Bioaccumulation interactive (L5) Science Learning Hub

The elements: element analyser interactive (L5) Digistore on TKI

The Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (L5) GNS Science webpage

Key words

Citizen science, birds