14- How to Start Building NGSS Storylines

April 14, 2022

In this episode, Erin discusses the basics of NGSS storylines. She discusses the answers to some of your most frequently asked questions and describes what storylines are.

We’ve answered some of your most frequently asked questions in the post below. But, if you still have questions, submit them here. We’d love to answer them on the podcast.

What is an NGSS storyline?

Storylines are lesson sequences that guide students in developing their understanding of phenomena. They are the vehicle for teaching science content in an NGSS-aligned classroom.

Text on light blue background
"NGSS Vocabulary
-lessons sequences that guide students in developing their understanding of phenomena
-the path your students take to learn content in an ngss aligned classroom

However, they can vary in length. Some teachers will create a storyline to cover a single unit. And, some may create mini-storylines to cover content for a week or two. Others create a semester or year-long storyline to weave together multiple units. For example, look at the California Framework for Science. They have a year-long storyline for each grade level. One topic leads to the next.

Still, most storylines cover a single unit. There is a single anchoring phenomenon that links the entire unit together. Teachers guide students through the storyline to help them make sense of phenomena.

Things to Know Before You Build Your NGSS Storylines

Storylines are one of the more complex aspects of NGSS-aligned teaching. Sometimes, it’s difficult for teachers to jump right into building a storyline.

If you are new to the NGSS here are a few topics you might consider starting with:

If you know you are ready to build storylines but don’t know where to start…

Continue reading this episode recap. We’ve updated this post recently to include answers to some of the questions that weren’t answered in the original episode.

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Register for this on-demand training and rethink science instruction to bring joy, curiosity, and flow back into your science classroom. Click here to register.

Get Answers to FAQ About NGSS Storylines

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about phenomena. We’ve rounded up all of our resources from this episode and others. These resources will help you get started in building your own storylines.

Are storylines different than phenomena?

Yes, storylines and phenomena are different. But we never talk about one without the other. That’s why we suggest that you understand phenomena before attempting to build a storyline.

Phenomena cause students to wonder and asked questions. Then, they investigate these questions as they move through the storyline. These questions are investigated as students move along your storyline. Through the storyline, students make sense of phenomena.

Can I use a storyline created by someone else?

Storylines can be shared between sites, and districts, and created by publishers. However, this implies a storyline will be meaningful to all students, regardless of location, interest, or other characteristics. This is one of the reasons why published curriculum sometimes misses the mark. To learn more about this, check out this episode.

Storylines help to connect the content students are learning to the real world. The scenarios presented are most effective when they relate directly to student lives. This makes it difficult to build storylines that are one-size-fits-all.

Why are storylines important?

It is important to create storylines for several reasons. For example, they help students connect what they are learning to the real world. Also, they help students understand the connection between related topics.

When should you start an NGSS Storyline?

The answer really depends on you, your goals, and if you are new to the NGSS. We presented two different options for you in this episode.

What do you need to create an NGSS storyline?

You will need to start with at least one performance expectation. However, this process is much richer if you start with a bundle of standards. (If you aren’t sure what a bundle is, you can check out this post.)

You also should have an idea about the phenomenon that you want to use. Make sure that the phenomenon is relatable to your students. You want them to be curious.

It is also a good idea to have your objectives written out ahead of time. (To find out how to use evidence statements to write objectives, check out the links below.)

Also, Erin recommends having plenty of sticky notes on hand. They are good to use because you can move them around as you build and edit your storyline. She also uses a large poster board.

How to Build an NGSS Storyline

Use your phenomena and think about what questions your students might ask. These will serve as your student questions. When you present your phenomena to your students, you can swap many of these for actual student questions.

Erin likes to build her storyline by creating a frame first. She puts the student questions she has generated on the left and corresponding objectives on the right.

Image of a path in a forest.  At the bottom there is a turquoise text box with white text that reads "storylines are the path your students take to understand phenomena."

After that, she fills in the lesson sequence from left to right. Students should use the Science and Engineering Practices to help them to explore the phenomena and answer the questions on the left.

Erin says that she uses a structure similar to the 5E model to fill in the lesson sequence. Each line (lesson sequence) that she creates might not have all of the components of the 5E model… but remember the 5E model isn’t linear so that’s okay.

More Information on Building NGSS Storylines

Are you interested in more information about how to build NGSS storylines? Here are some more resources to help you.