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Literacy Strategies for the Science Classroom

The Amazing Water Molecule

Note: see the attached "The Amazing Water Molecule.pdf" document for all materials referenced on this page.


In this activity students read the essay “Small, Yes, but Mighty: The Molecule Called Water”. After reading the article students hold a Socratic discussion on the contents of the article. This lesson is appropriate for the biochemical portion of an introductory course in high school physical science or for biology.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will engage in meaningful inquiry discussion.
  • Students will be able to explain the organization of the water molecule.
  • Students will state how properties of water are related to its molecular structure.

Curriculum Alignment:

National Standards addressed by this lesson include content standards for grades 9-12 for the Physical Sciences. Fundamental concepts include the structure and properties of matter and how the physical properties of compounds reflect the natured of the interactions among its molecules.

North Carolina Standards


Goal 2: The learner will develop an understanding of the physical, chemical and cellular basis of life. (Enrichment)

Physical Science

  • 6.05 Investigate and analyze the properties and composition of solutions:
    • Solubility curves.
    • Concentration.
    • Polarity.
    • pH scale.
    • Electrical conductivity.
  • 5.03 Identify substances through the investigation of physical properties:
    • Density.
    • Melting point.
    • Boiling point.

English III

  • 1.01 Create memoirs that give an audience a sense of how the past can be significant for the present by:
    • elaborating upon a significant past episode from the student's current perspective.
    • projecting the student's voice in the work through reflective interpretation of relationships to people and events.
    • writing for a specific audience and purpose.
  • 1.02 Reflect and respond expressively to texts so that the audience will:
    • discover multiple perspectives.
    • investigate connections between life and literature.
    • explore how the student's life experiences influence his or her response to the selection.
    • recognize how the responses of others may be different.
    • articulate insightful connections between life and literature.
    • consider cultural or historical significance.
  • 1.03 Demonstrate the ability to read, listen to and view a variety of increasingly complex print and non-print expressive texts appropriate to grade level and course literary focus, by:
    • selecting, monitoring, and modifying as necessary reading strategies appropriate to readers' purpose.
    • identifying and analyzing text components (such as organizational structures, story elements, organizational features) and evaluating their impact on the text.
    • providing textual evidence to support understanding of and reader's response to text.
    • demonstrating comprehension of main idea and supporting details.
    • summarizing key events and/or points from text.
    • making inferences, predicting, and drawing conclusions based on text.
    • identifying and analyzing personal, social, historical or cultural influences, contexts, or biases.
    • making connections between works, self and related topics.
    • identifying and analyzing elements of expressive environment found in text in light of purpose, audience, and context.

Classroom Time Required:

One 90 minute class period. Depending on the length of discussion students may need to complete the assessment as a homework assignment.

Materials Needed:

Technology Resources:

Computer with internet access to view the article

Pre-Activities/ Activities:

Teacher should review the section on the KIM vocabulary chart and the DRTA in the Resources Page You can add any additional terminology or you may also want to allow students to skim the article for any vocabulary not already assigned and make extra spaces on the KIM chart if needed. The instructor along with the students should address vocabulary issues before reading the article. It may also be helpful to review the process of conducting a Socratic seminar. Information and links on this style of inquiry discussion can be found on the Resources page.


Engage students by having them write about an important event that demonstrates how water has had an important impact on their life. This could take the form of the importance of water to their bodies in term of biology, water related to a memorable vacation or water related weather event, whatever comes to mind. Allow students to share some of their experiences with the class. Students should now complete the first section of the DRTA providing information about what they already know about the water molecule.


Explore information about what students think they know about the water molecule, this can be done in the form of a Socratic discussion allowing students to add to one another’s ideas or debate issues in question. Do not provide correct answers at this point rather move unresolved questions to the “What do you think you will learn about” section of the DRTA. Allow students to complete the second section of the DRTA.


In a lecture/discussion provide extra detail and clarification on responses from students first and second section of the DRTA. You many want to summarize the class information on a projector or white board. Discuss information from the third section of the DRTA with students have them research the article to find clarification to any unanswered question until this point. Explanations from student responses should include the components of the water molecule; two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Students may understand that water molecules want to cling together, however they may not be familiar with the term cohesion or the reason why this occurs. This will come during the final reading and subsequent discussion/clarification. Again, student may talk about water being used as a solvent but not have the understanding of what is taking place on a molecular level.


Give students the opportunity to complete a second more thorough reading of the article making note of any new information gathered from their reading experience. Follow up with a class discussion allow students to elaborate on topics introduced in the article, encourage them to make connections to other substances or experiences. By this point students should have addressed the structure of the water molecule, its polarity, formation of hydrogen bonds, and how this gives water some of its unique properties. Student should be allowed to add to the final sections of the DRTA as the discussion progresses.


Evaluate student understanding from the final discussion of the article. Allow the discussion to fill in any gaps or remaining questions before providing the information yourself.


Have students create their own mini poster on 8 ½” by 11” printer paper. Students should begin by drawing a large raindrop shape in the center of their paper. Inside the drop have them draw a model of water molecule itself showing the placement of the oxygen and hydrogen atoms. Surrounding the central figure students can add details statements about information presented in sections one and four of the DRTA. Instruct students to make the project visually appealing. Suggest placing statements in surrounding droplets. Students may place or do this activity in their notebooks.

Alternative Assessments:

Provide students with a series of question taken from information in the article.

Supplemental Information:

Carolina Biological Supply has an excellent manipulative kit on water molecules item number 840140. The water molecules contain tiny magnets to simulate the attraction of the water molecules to introduce students to the behavior discussed in the article.

Critical Vocabulary

These are the terms with which students seem to have the most difficulty, since the English standard course of study emphasized etymology of word this information is provided where it could be found.

  • fetus-from the Latin fētus” bringing forth of young” an unborn offspring.
  • gregarious –from Latin gregarius, derives from the Greek gregis "flock, herd," seeking the company of others.
  • gestate- from the Latin gestare "bear, carry”. to carry in the uterus during pregnancy.
  • elixir - an alchemic preparation formerly believed to be capable of prolonging life
  • polarized-refers to lenses that allow light rays to pass through in only one plane.
  • troika- a collection of three.


From repeated practice in using this lesson I have discovered that the vocabulary that gives the students the most difficulty is not necessarily the science vocabulary itself. I have also discovered that is not the meaning of the word rather it is its recognition. After being questioned several times about terms such as fetus and gestate students knew the term once they heard the proper pronunciation, but were unable to decode the word from its appearance.

Supplemental Files: