Five Ways to Help Your Students Create Better Models

June 29, 2019 No Comments

Now that we have had a preliminary discussion about models (click here to review the post!) in an NGSS aligned classroom it’s time to discuss helping your students create better models.  Here are my top 5 ways to help your students create better models in your classroom.

Improving Student Models

1. Ask students to focus on the seen and unseen in their models.

While students will likely focus on what they see, there is often more happening within a system or during an event. Things like energy, small particles and forces can’t always be seen, but we know that they exist because of observations that we make.

Encourage your students to include these components in their model.  One way you can do this is by asking students to include what they might see through a microscope or with a telescope.  (This will also help them think about scale!)

2. List model-must-haves and agree on shared symbols.

Students might not be able to come up with these unseen components on their own.  These components can be included in a list of model-must-haves that you give to your students before they create their model. A model-must-have is a simple list of things that should be included in a model.  This list should only have the most basic components and shouldn’t include vocabulary terms.

If third-grade students are creating a model to demonstrate their understanding of forces when a soccer ball is kicked, the model should include the person kicking the ball, the ball itself, and perhaps the direction of the force.  If fifth-grade students are creating a model to show how heat affects particle motion, they must show the particles, heat, and find some way to show motion.

This is where common symbols come in handy.  Models are more clear if there are some symbols that are used each time an item shows up in a model.  In the example above, if students are adding forces to their model, you might decide as a class that students will use an arrow to show forces.  If students are showing particles in their model, it might be useful to decide that small circles will be used in the model to represent particles.


Establishing these conventions saves time and makes modeling more clear.  However, it is important that you don’t create spoilers by introducing these components.  Consider when these components are introduced to avoid impeeding student discovery.  You might accomplish this by introducing these components during the first revision.

3. Provide scaffolding for the models.

Simple graphic organizers can be a great way to help students create better models.  Starting in third grade, students should start considering what might happen if a variable is changed.

Students in fifth grade might use a graphic organizer, like the ones pictured in the scaffolds below, to show how particles are affected by increases and decreases in temperature.

This and several other graphic organizers are available on my Teachers Pay Teachers Store in my Scaffolds for Modeling Resource for grades 3-5.  Click here to check out this resource.  Middle school resources are available here.Sample Scaffolds for Modeling

4. Provide time and scaffolds for discussions about student models.

Allowing students time to engage in peer review has so many benefits to everyone in your classroom.  Students can increase their understanding of a concept by discussing it with their peers.  And, if students can provide meaningful feedback to each other, it gives you more time to spend working with students who are really struggling with concepts.

However, the ability to provide thoughtful feedback and engage in high-level discussions isn’t a skill that comes naturally to students.  Providing students with scaffolds like sentence frames, as seen in the example above, will support them in their conversations.  Using graphic organizers that help students to compare their models is also incredibly valuable.

5. Allow time for revision.

Time is precious in our classrooms.  However, as with most things that are NGSS related, it is so important that you slow down and find time for revisions.  When given the time, students will begin to make higher level connections.  They will also improve their skills in other practices, like Asking Questions and Engaging in an Argument.

I recommend allowing your students to revise their models twice, both times after they have had new experiences in your classroom.  (Remember PEER from last week?)  If they are revising their models too frequently, they may become bored.  However, if they don’t revise enough, they may miss higher level concepts.  (But this is a general rule…. you can play with this to find out how well it works in your classroom.)

What tools do you use to help students make better models in your classroom?


Erin Sadler

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