Environmental vs. Genetic Factors Claim-Evidence-Reasoning Prompts

Escobedo Middle School and Boston Public Schools
Type Category
Assessment Materials Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.


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This lesson provides two Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) prompts that were developed through a collaboration between teachers at the Escobedo Middle School and the Boston Public Schools Science Department. The two prompts support student thinking as they explore the influence of environmental and genetic factors on the growth of organisms. The first prompt uses dog breeds to demonstrate the influence of genetic factors, whereas the second prompt discusses the effect of sunlight on different species of grasses to demonstrate the influence of environmental factors.

The original lesson includes possible student responses, background information, real data for prompt two, and links for additional information. A second link is provided in the performance expectation tips that includes scaffolding organizers, teacher information, and rubrics.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-LS1-5 Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms.

Clarification Statement: Examples of local environmental conditions could include availability of food, light, space, and water. Examples of genetic factors could include large breed cattle and species of grass affecting growth of organisms. Examples of evidence could include drought decreasing plant growth, fertilizer increasing plant growth, different varieties of plant seeds growing at different rates in different conditions, and fish growing larger in large ponds than they do in small ponds.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include genetic mechanisms, gene regulation, or biochemical processes.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This lesson uses the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning approach (CER). If the teacher is unfamiliar with this instructional model this link will provide scaffolding for the writing component https://learningcenter.nsta.org/products/symposia_seminars/NSTA/files/HowDoYouKnowThat--HelpingStudentsWriteAboutClaimsandEvidence_12-12-2012.pdf. Students should be familiar with the claim-evidence-reasoning model before completing this activity. This could be accomplished by using the lesson to teach CER or as part of an assessment of the performance expectation. As part of the scaffolding, one claim is provided and the second one is student-choice. Students are expected to provide evidence of how environmental or genetic conditions affect the potential growth of plants and animals. Students begin by reading a short paragraph of background information on dog breeds. (A link is provided for more information.) The educator should encourage students to do further research on the subject. The second prompt concerns plants and sunlight. With this prompt students must choose whether environmental or genetic factors are responsible for the observed effects. This has accompanying information in the form of real data.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) approach provides a scaffold for constructing arguments and explanations from the pictures provided and with real data in prompt two. Scaffolding should be provided to guide students through the CER process. Using the CER approach, teachers may want to provide students with time for both individual and group oral reporting, culminating in group presentations and individual written reports. Using a “gallery walk” will help make student thinking explicit for both informal assessment and student sharing.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
To develop an understanding of the role of the environment and genetic factors on organisms and write an effective CER report, students will need basic knowledge about genes, inheritance, and the effects of environmental factors on organisms. Teachers will need to provide instruction on the claim-evidence-reasoning approach. This lesson could be used as part as a culminating unit on genetics or to introduce students to the role of the environment on traits. The following link (http://bpsscience.weebly.com/uploads/2/2/1/3/2213712/environmental_vs_genetic_factors_cer_prompts.pdf) has the students perform live observations of plants instead of just using the provided data, which could enhance student understanding.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students need to be explicit about the evidence they see in the picture or in the data to support their claim. The student sample responses provide good examples, thus, supporting the claim (cause and effect) that either genetic or environmental factors are the causative agents for the differences in dog breeds and growth of plants in light.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The two claim-evidence-reasoning prompts provide authentic phenomena that engage students in using the three dimensions for sense-making. Initiating the claim, evidence, reasoning approach allows the teacher to provide the opportunity for students to develop an understanding of the phenomena. An initial discussion through think-pair-share or a gallery walk will allow the educator to expose students’ thinking before facilitating students in exploring the phenomenon through more extensive research and data collection. Even though the prompts provide pictorial data and real data, this lesson can be extended to add additional research of the topics and expand the student-thinking.

  • Instructional Supports: This resource is written as two prompts. The two claims provided could allow the students to research scientifically accurate and grade‐appropriate scientific evidence to support their claim and to detail their reasoning of the phenomena using three‐dimensions. Some background information and data is provided but could be supplemented by additional research material. Evidence research of the claims provides opportunities for students to express, clarify, justify, interpret, and represent their ideas. A writing template is provided; however, the addition of oral group reporting will support three‐dimensions.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson does not provide a rubric or scoring guide, however, a secondary lesson that was created in conjunction with the primary lesson does have an aligned rubrics and scoring guidelines that provide guidance for interpreting student performance along the three dimensions. (http://bpsscience.weebly.com/uploads/2/2/1/3/2213712/environmental_vs_genetic_factors_cer_prompts.pdf),

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This is not an interactive, technology-based resource.