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5 Powerful Ways to Join Reading and Science

Are you a reader? Do you worry about your students being readers?   Of course, you do!   Several years ago I became a trainer for our local science curriculum and now teach teachers how to use the science kits adopted for each grade. At one of those training sessions I conducted, a teacher said this,

 “There is no way I can get all this science added to our day.” 

Then she went on to say the most shocking thing ever, 

“I don’t even have time to read aloud to my children!”

I am pretty sure my heart broke right then- for her and for her kids. So, that made me think about how on earth we could somehow join those two things and get them both accomplished successfully!  

So, here you go: 5 Powerful Ways to Join Reading and Science!

Joining reading and STEM is a powerful way to inspire students to design and create. Check this post for resource and book ideas.

#1- It’s all About Boats!

This Mem Fox book is one of my absolute favorites to read aloud to children. It has very few words and is very repetitive- example: “He was scraggly. All pirates are scraggly.” The story is told in the amazing illustrations and you learn that a young stowaway on the pirate ship discovers the pirate captain has a violin and he steals it.

In the end, the violin case becomes a burial container for the pirate’s pet parrot and it is quite sad when the book has these words, 

“All pirates cry!”

STEM Idea:

Read this book to your children, talk about the boat in particular and then have them design boats- even add that they must make a parrot model for their boats.

Here’s another amazing picture book! 

This book tells the story of a group of refugees that travel on a crowded boat to escape the soldiers of their country. This one takes a lot of schema building and then stopping to talk about what is happening. In the end, the refugees reach a shore in which people are welcoming and bring them ashore to safety. It is a story about thanksgiving, but not necessarily the holiday.   

It is beautifully written and quite profound in its content. The two countries are never explained, but we always imagined the safe place was America when I read this to third graders.  

STEM idea: 

Read the book and talk about what kind of boat the refugees would need to travel on safely. Have students design a boat that would hold a specific amount of weight.

Here’s the perfect STEM Challenge all about boats!

Students design and build a boat using materials they have “purchased”. We test the boats by floating and then add weights to see if the boats are stable and strurdy.

This STEM activity will have your students designing and building a boat! Using simple supplies you probably already have on hand, students choose which materials they wish to use. To make this even more challenging students have a materials spending budget and must stay within it while building their boat.

#2 is All About Volume!

The Popcorn Book is just purely delightful. It’s full of little stories about popcorn, its history, and fun facts. There’s a page that tells about some archaeologists that find fossilized popcorn in a cave. They find a specific number of popped popcorn pieces. There are recipes and many other goodies in the book. Kids love it! 

Which leads to a STEM Challenge, of course. 

What if the kids were those archaeologists? What if they found those fragile preserved popcorn pieces and needed to transport them back to a science lab to study? So, build a container to carry them. Here’s another idea- after reading the book have parents send in different kinds of popcorn and have a taste testing event or try popping one brand at different amounts of time to see which pops the best or the fastest.

Here’s the perfect STEM Challenge! It’s about volume and how much space popcorn takes up!

Students must build a container that will perfectly hold a specific amount of popcorn. We test these containers by pouring in the popcorn.

It’s the Popcorn STEM Challenge! This is one of my absolute favorites to use as an exploration into volume. Second and third graders, especially, will enjoy this as they design those containers to hold the popcorn. Inevitably, there will be gigantic containers. When I pull the quantity of popcorn from its hiding place to test their containers the reaction is priceless. So is the learning!

# 3 is All About Towers!

 Y’all, have you ever read this book? It is purely wonderful. It’s the story of a divided kingdom. The kingdom even has a line down the center and the residents mustn’t cross the line. On one side are people that are left-handed and the right-handed people are on the other side. The line dividing them is guarded by the Ambidextrous Knights! Seriously, laugh out loud funny!  

One day a villager accidentally crosses the line and the knights must attack with the only weapon they have- marshmallows! It is just a hilarious book which leads right to a STEM Challenge using marshmallows. Ideas for you: build a tower, a bridge, a dome. You get the idea…..

Here’s the perfect challenge to use after reading the book! Use modeling dough or marshmallows!

Students use toothpicks and marshmallows to build a bridge that must span a specific distance. We have tried this with modeling dough and it works well with that material, too!

It is more challenging that you would expect!

The design challenge lesson contained in this package is a bridge building experience. Students will use toothpicks and marshmallows to construct a bridge. They will test the strength of their final designs by adding weights to the structures.

# 4 is All About Perimeter and Area

This is a fun story about Lisa who has a homework assignment to go home and measure something. The task is to measure in as many ways as she can. She decides to measure her dog, Penny.  Penny is measured in many ways, including things like the size of her nose or ears. Lisa uses standard and nonstandard measuring throughout the book.    For example – Penny’s nose is one dog biscuit long!   

STEM idea: Of course, measuring anything would be a great task, but why not tackle building something about a dog- maybe a dog house? You could try building a doghouse model using cardboard or something less dimensional using graph paper. This ties in fabulously with math and science and reading!

Here’s the perfect STEM Challenges. 

I have two resources about area and perimeter.

One is about building a dog run and the other is about designing a doghouse with a specific area. The photo is the dog run version!

This one day STEM challenge will have your students thinking about perimeter and area. After hearing the book read (or talking about measuring perimeter and area) students will be given a specific perimeter to use in designing a Dog Run.

# 5 is All About Bridges!

This book is the story of testing the Brooklyn Bridge. After it was built people were afraid to go across it. Hannah and her dad come up with a plan. They are able to get P.T. Barnum’s circus elephants to parade across the bridge and prove it is strong enough for people to use!

STEM Idea: Build a bridge, of course! 

There are so many ways you can do this. Even something as simple as index cards can build a bridge! Have fun with this idea! My bridge challenges are featured below.

The photo has index card bridges, suspension bridges, and marshmallow bridges.

My third graders always complete the index card bridges and the other two are usually fifth graders. Fourth graders build gliding bridges or straw bridges.

Building bridges in STEM classes can be inspired by reading a book. Check this post all about reading and STEM.

And there you have it! Integrate your science topics with reading. It will delight your students, take care of reading, science, math, and STEM. Have fun! Click on any of the images to see the resources or the books!

Joining reading and STEM is a powerful way to inspire students to design and create. Check this post for resource and book ideas.


  1. My sixth graders LOVE STEM activities! REALLY LOVE! I try to fit one it at least every other week. We've used several of your STEM challenges (towers, bridges) and thoroughly enjoy them. Like you, I incorporate reading into science and science into reading. Thanks for sharing the titles of these picture books.


  2. I am so excited to try incorporating reading with science. Next year I will be a 5th grade science teachrr and can't wait to get started . thanks for the amazing ideae! I love them!

  3. I am so excited to try incorporating reading with science. Next year I will be a 5th grade science teachrr and can't wait to get started . thanks for the amazing ideae! I love them!

  4. I love, love, love your website! This is exactly what I want to do as a youth services librarian. Bless you for sharing!!

  5. Thank you for your kind words! I write about reading and STEM all the time and I have a monthly book review for adult books! Enjoy!

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