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Kid-friendly Writing

The Art of Telling a Science-rich Story

At Ask A Biologist we work to create content that can be enjoyed by a wide audience. We have found that creating stories for middle school students and teachers allow us to reach as large a group as possible.

In order to do this there are two elements we look for, reading level and how enjoyable or fun a story will be for the reader. The first element can be addressed by using the multiple tools available for assessing the reading level of a document.

While these tools are great for testing reading level they do not show how fun or enjoyable and kid-friendly a story might be. We have put together some examples of kid-friendly content. The key is to keep the writing active and to engage the reader using the five senses.

Pencil and paper


Examples of Kid-friendly Writing


Example 1
- Both examples below are written at a middle school level and introduce the reader to a study of basketball teams and networks. The one the left poses a question at the beginning and provides some examples. The one on the right does the same thing, but engages the reader by drawing on their senses.

Original Version Kid-friendly Version

Have you ever wondered what makes the difference between a team that performs well versus a team that doesn't achieve its goal? A team is a group of individuals that work together to achieve a common goal. For example, wild dogs hunt together to catch prey. Basketball players work together to move a ball across the court and score points.

The performance of the team depends on how individuals work together towards their goal. In the Public Library of Science Biology article, “Basketball Teams as Strategic Networks,” scientist Jennifer Fewell and her team study how players work together to move the ball across the court – who throws the ball to whom? – and how these interactions can predict the team’s success.

 

There is the sound of the ball bouncing on the hardwood floor. A blur as it passes from one player to the next. A shot is taken, the basket made or missed. This is the back-and forth world of basketball where one team wins and another loses.

What is it in this maze of passes and shots that makes the difference between a team that wins and one that does not? While weekend sports experts and living room fans debate the pluses and minuses of particular teams, there is a group of scientists who have a new idea on measuring team behavior and success.

In the Public Library of Science Biology article, “Basketball Teams as Strategic Networks,” Jennifer Fewell and her own team of scientists have studied how players work together to move the ball across the court.


Example 2 - The story of networks continues by using the reader's own experiences to introduce them to the idea of networks (right). Rather than placing the definition at the front (left), the kid-friendly piece engages the reader first and then introduces the term. The text is also 'chunked' into small bits so that it is easier for the reader to process.

Original Version Kid-friendly Version

What is a network?

Networks are a way to represent connections between people: to whom do you talk? With whom do you work?  Who are your teachers?  Your friends? These connections all represent different kinds of networks.

When studying teamwork, we connect the network structure to a measure of performance.  How does the group work together?  What properties of team interactions make the team more likely to succeed in achieving its goals? 

To study this, scientists in the Fewell lab studied the interactions between basketball players during the 2010 NBA playoffs by looking at who passed the ball to whom in each team.  They studied 16 teams, with 8 match-ups, 2 games per match-up. They recorded every time the ball was passed from one player to another, as well as the outcomes of the plays (successful shot, for example). 

 

Networks

For Fewell’s team, a game is more than a game – it is a collection of patterns and connections between the players. As they studied basketball teams more closely they began to see a network emerge.

Whether you know it or not, you are part of many networks. Networks show connections between people. Who talks to you? With whom do you work and play?  Who are your teachers? Your friends? These connections all represent different kinds of networks.

When studying teamwork, we can connect the pattern of teammates' interactions to a measure of performance.  How does the group work together?  What properties of team interactions make the team more likely to succeed in achieving its goals? 

To study this, scientists in the Fewell lab measured the interactions between basketball players during the 2010 NBA playoffs by looking at who passed the ball to whom on each team.

They studied 16 teams in 8 matchups, with 2 games per matchup. As they watched each game they recorded every time the ball was passed from one player to another, as well as the outcomes of the plays (a successful shot, for example).


Example 3 - Space and space travel is always interesting to readers. This is true for young learners. Giving a taste of what it is like to be astronaut is one way to place the reader in their shoes, weightless or not.

Original Version Kid-friendly Version
Astronauts on the International Space Station look like they’re having a lot of fun - everything floats around in the spacecraft and the views of Earth are spectacular.  It may seem like it’s all fun in space, but when the astronauts get back they often  have a hard time walking, and some even need to be carried out of the spacecraft. So what exactly is happening to their bodies? It’s no surprise that the environment in space is different than the environment on Earth, but what is surprising is the effect this environment has on the human body. 

Astronauts seem to live the good life--floating and flipping through the air, looking at the Earth from 200 miles away, and eating special vacuum-packed meals. True, the ice cream is freeze-dried, but think of the amazing view they have while eating dessert. Being an astronaut is a cool job, but before you sign up, you should know that life in space isn't all fun and games. The lack of gravity can make our bodies act in strange ways.


Example 4 - It not easy being a snake. There are a lot of dangers for young snakes and in some species, moms are the ones that look after them. This story offers many opportunities to bring the reader into the story based on their own experience and knowledge. Take note that exclamation points (!) are reserved for rare cases. The wrting should be making the point without needing to point it out.

 

Original Version Kid-friendly Version

In people, mothers and fathers typically work together to take care of their offspring (a.k.a., children), and this is called parental care. However, most other animals do not provide much parental care to their offspring. If any parental care is provided, it is generally done only by the mother. In these cases, mom has to meet all of her offspring’s needs. Like children, other young animals often need quite a bit of care, such as being protected, staying warm, and getting enough food and water. Though they may not seem very nurturing, pythons are actually very dedicated moms that are capable of meeting all of these needs of their offspring!

 

Being a parent is hard work. Your mom or dad may take you to school, cook you dinner, and take extra special care of you when you get sick, but they aren’t the only hardworking parents out there. Animal parents sometimes take care of their children too, though they probably don’t have to worry about making sure their kids get on the bus in the morning.

For most animals involved in parental care, mom has to work all by herself to meet the needs of her children (also called young). This can include making sure her young are safe from predators, are warm, and that they get enough food and water. Though a snake might not seem comforting to you, python moms are actually very dedicated parents and they take good care of their kids.


Graphs and ChartsGraphs and Charts

There are also opportunities to create captions to that help tell not only what a graph describes, but also use it as an opportunity to teach fundamentals of reading and interpreting graphs and charts. 

Original Version Kid-friendly Version

Original PLOS Graph Caption

 

Kid-friendly PLOS Graph


Eusthenopteron foordi, a lobe-finned fish from the Late Devonian of Canada, pencil drawing

Illustrations

This section will talk about how captions should be written for illustrations. Some of the things that can be included are questions about or text that points out particular areas or concepts illustrated. This is not the section on how to draw illustrations. This will be a separate page.

Typewriter keys

The power of the written word should not be underestimated. Even in a world filled with movies, videos and computer games, everything begins with words.

Author and Artists Notes

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Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.

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Typewriter keys

The power of the written word should not be underestimated. Even in a world filled with movies, videos and computer games, everything begins with words.

Author and Artists Notes

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.