Literary Science Sparks: Science, Grade 3


LAFS.3.RI.2.4   Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 3 topic or subject area.

LAFS.3.RI.3.9 Compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic.

LAFS.3.SL.1.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on Grade Three topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

  1. Come to discussions  prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.
  2. Follow agreed-upon rules of discussion.
  3. Ask questions to check understanding of information presented, stay on topic, and link their comments to the remarks of others.
  4. Explain their own ideas and understanding in light of the discussion.


SC.3.E.5.4: Explore the Law of Gravity by demonstrating that gravity is a force that can be overcome.


Roller Coaster

by Marla Frazee


Book cover for Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee at the Jacksonville Public Library

The spare text and dynamic artwork of this picture book capture the anticipation and excitement a young girl experiences on her very first roller coaster ride.  It is a delightful introduction to motion and forces.

#Literary Sparks

  1. Before reading, ask: “Have you ever been on a roller coaster? What was it like? If you’ve never been on one, what do you think it would be like?”
  2. While reading the book, stop after pages 14-15. Ask, “What do you think the next picture will look like?”
  3. Stop after reading page 27 (“Wheeeee!”). Have students close their eyes and imagine what it would feel like to be on the roller coaster. Have them make their “roller coaster face.” Finish reading the book aloud.



by Don Herweck

Call Number: Y 531.5 HERWECK

Book cover for Gravity by Don Herweck at the Jacksonville Public Library

This high-interest informational text will help students gain science content knowledge while building their literacy skills and nonfiction reading comprehension. This appropriately leveled nonfiction science reader features hands-on, simple science experiments. Third grade students will learn all about gravity through this engaging text that is aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards and supports STEM education.

#Informational Sparks

  1. Definition of gravity, “What goes up, must come down.”, p. 4
  2. How inertia and gravity affect the movement of objects, pp. 14-15. How do these concepts work to make a roller coaster go up? Go down? Loop the loop?
  3. Astronaut training, p. 17. Is this simulation similar to what a roller coaster does? Why and how?

#Investigative Inquiry

Build a Marble Roller Coaster

Learning Outcomes Statement:

Building a Marble Roller Coaster will engage students in thinking about and designing their own roller coaster plans, then seeing the plans through by creating the roller coaster. Then they will observe how the marble travels through their roller coaster tracks, which will demonstrate how gravity is keeping the marble on the track…or is it? Students will also observe that gravity can be overcome, via the sections of their roller coasters that are designed to make the marble go up. This activity will develop the core academic skills of creativity and problem solving by creating and observing a unique object, and supporting possible solutions with facts and details.

Materials Needed:

The class can be divided into small groups/teams of 5-6 students per team.

  • Marbles
  • Multiple sections of 3/8-inch foam pipe insulation
  • Utility knife (for adult use only)
  • Painter’s tape (blue tape)
  • 20 oz. plastic cups

Activity preparation:

Foam pipe insulation already has a slit down one side (so it will fit around a pipe). Beforehand, use the utility knife to cut the foam pipe insulation completely in half lengthwise. This will make two troughs that the marble will fit inside of (see photo at right). The foam is flexible and can be used over and over again.

Image of foam pipe insulation

Additional Library Resources/Materials to Share:

Y 688.7 STONE Roller Coasters: How Are They Built? by Lynn M. Stone

Y 531.14078 WHITE Gravity: Simple Experiments for Young Scientists by Larry White

Y 531.14078 DALTON Gravity by Cindy Devine Dalton

372.35044 SKILL Skill Sharpeners, Science, Grade 3 by Barbara Allman

372.6044 ROCKWELL Linking Language: Simple Language and Literacy Activities Throughout the Curriculum, by Robert Rockwell

507.8 CITRO The Curious Kid’s Science Book: 100+ Creative Hands-On Activities for Ages 4-8 by Asia Citro

Notes for Introduction:

Gravity is a force that pulls all objects toward the center of the Earth. The Earth’s gravity keeps us on the ground and causes objects to fall. Most roller coasters are pulled up the first hill by a chain (which is an example of overcoming gravity). However, once the coaster is over the top of the hill, gravity is the main force responsible for the movement of the coaster (there is no engine pulling it). The first hill of the coaster is usually the most exciting drop of the ride—and the coaster goes faster and faster the closer it gets to the ground. We are going to work together in teams to design our own roller coasters and observe how gravity works and how it can be overcome. This activity requires several steps, so pay close attention to my instructions.

Activity Description:

  1. Distribute materials to each group (sections of foam insulation, marbles, tape, and cup).
  2. Explain: Show the students the foam “track” and the marble that will be the roller coaster “car.” They can use the tape to secure the foam track to tables, chairs, the wall, floor, and other pieces of foam. The cup will be taped at the end of the “ride” to catch the marble.
  3. Before you begin, have the kids think about the design of the roller coaster and how gravity will impact it. Start with the following simple challenges:
    1. Can you make the marble roll from one end of the track and stop in the cup?
    2. Can you make the marble roll faster?
    3. Can you make the marble roll more slowly?
    4. Can you make the marble go over a hill on your roller coaster?

Let the teams address these challenges with their supplies.

  1. Now that the basics have been covered, let the teams use what they’ve learned to create a roller coaster. Add the following bigger challenges:
    1. Can you make the marble go over two hills on your roller coaster?
    2. Can you make the marble go through a loop on your roller coaster?

During these challenges, encourage students to make observations about where on the track the marble moves fastest and slowest.

Note: students can tape the foam insulation to chairs, tables, walls, floors, and other sections of foam. Reference example photos below:

Image of foam pipe insulation  Image of foam pipe insulation

Questions for Feedback and Reflection:

After each team has had a chance to demonstrate their roller coaster, bring the groups together to answer the following questions:

  1. How did you make the marble roll faster?

By raising one end a lot higher than the other.

  1. How did you make the marble roll more slowly?

By raising one end only a little higher than the other.

  1. How did you make a hill on your roller coaster? Were you able to make two hills?

By bending the middle of the track up.

  1. Which was the highest, the first hill or the second hill?

The first hill had to be the highest to get the marble going fast enough to go over the second hill.

  1. How did you make the marble go over the hills or around loops on your roller coaster?

By making the beginning of the track steep.

  1. Did the marble ever fall off of the roller coaster? What made it fall?

Ultimately, gravity, but was it going too slowly, etc.

  1. What causes the marble to go down the track?

Answers may vary, but it’s the concept of gravity and overcoming it (push/pull).

  1. Today, we’ve learned that roller coaster design relies on gravity, but also has elements that overcome it. What are other, simple ways that we overcome gravity everyday (remembering that gravity is a force that pulls us and objects toward the center of the Earth)? Examples include taking an elevator, picking up a book, throwing a ball up into the air, etc. However, on Earth, gravity always wins: what goes UP, must come DOWN.

For a complete, printer friendly version of this Literary Spark please click here.

#Science Sparks Content

Kids Info Bits

National Geographic Kids

Science in Context

General Science Collection

National Geographic Virtual Library

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