Looking for an easy way to introduce students to CER, or Claim Evidence Reasoning approach? You may want to check out Scott Phillips slim text, Writing in Middle School Science: Claim, Evidence, Reasoning Papers That Work, part of his Primal Teaching Series of books.

The Amazon book jacket reveals:

Are you frustrated your middle school science students can’t write? Whether you call them Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) or Conclusions Based on Data (CBDs), seemingly all science teachers struggle with student writing.

This simple six-sentence, step-by-step, one-day lesson allows students to produce fantastic work in minutes. You’ll grade each paper in seconds and truly know who understands the material and who does not.

Author Scott Phillips spent ten years perfecting “Writing in Middle School Science” while teaching sixth, seventh and eighth grades. He’s been called the father of “Primal Teaching” and understands that if ideas are not easy and simple, teachers won’t use them.

Phillips often says, “It has to work 100 percent of the time with 100 percent of my students, or I won’t teach it.” And this book delivers a proven strategy that works. His students write 60 to 90 papers each year and complete them (with grades) in under 5 minutes!

Scott does a wonderful job of sharing examples of CER and how he has used it with students. If you need a primer on CER, this book is it. Scott claims to use CERs on the four to five most important ideas or principles from any major section. He uses CERs in this way:

  • warms ups at the beginning of class * tests and quizzes

He gives students full credit for a completed CER if “sentence six is right and the principle used is correct.” Sentence six, as you’ll see in a moment, focuses on the conclusion.

One added benefit? It’s free.

Free via Amazon Kindle Unlimited

Well, not exactly free. You have to have a Kindle Unlimited account on Amazon to get it at no cost. Since I did, I was pleasantly surprised to have it pop up as a counterpoint to all the RPGLit (or is it LitRPG? Who knows, they are fun to read) stories that Amazon has been suggesting lately.

About Scott’s Secret Structure

I found the info that Scott provides his students as a handout quite helpful. He put it in an appendix and for me it’s the formula I needed. I’m sure his students did as well (and yours, too!).

  • Sentence 1: Answer the question
  • Sentences 2,3,4: Convert data from number format into sentence format. Exclude unimportant data.
  • Sentence 5: Start with “In science, we know…” then state the scientific principle that supports your answer.
  • Sentence 6: Summarize data then write “Therefore” and summarize your answer.

He also offers these suggestions:

Avoid writing more than six sentences and do not use the word “because.”

For me, the examples really make this book valuable. I know you can use Google search to find a ton of CER examples, but Scott makes this really simple…simple enough for a middle school student to follow, which is about the level I am at anyways in these tough concepts.


An Example

Scott’s book is replete with examples, not only perfect examples but ones students that are learning a second language may be coming up with. This makes it a great book to use when modeling CER construction with students.

In his example, he shares a question: “Will the ball sink in water?” At this point, Scott shares the density of three items, such as the ball (1.5g/ml), water (1.0 g/ml), and corn (0.25 g/ml). Of course, I found this a little confusing. I realized that my science experiences had only told me that something heavier than water would sink, not the specifics of density.

An Aside: And, that’s what has made me want to go back and re-read all my science books and information. I hadn’t ever thought of scientific principles in this way. I am appalled at my science education.

Scott says the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) would be as follows:

  1. Yes, the ball will sink.
  2. The density of the ball is 1.5 g/ml
  3. The density of water is 1.0 g/ml
  4. In science, we know that a more dense object will sink in a less dense material.
  5. The ball is more dense than water, therefore it sinks. (extraneous info about corn’s density isn’t included in the reasoning)

Scott points out that you could write the sentence in paragraph form. For example, if the question is adjusted to read, “Which of these objects will sink or float in the water?”

Yes, some objects will sink and others will float. The density of the water is 1.0 g/ml, while the density of the ball is 1.5 g/ml and the corn’s 0.25 g/ml. In science, we know that more dense objects (ball) sink while less dense objects (corn) float atop the less dense material (water). Given that the ball is more dense, and the corn is less dense, than water therefore the ball will sink and the corn will float.

I don’t know about you, but this is quite comforting to have a scientific principle to point to and say, “This will happen as a result because this principle is in play.”

This is a great book, providing insight into something that can be a real obstacle for students. And, CER appears to work great in other content areas.


Imagine if everyone used CER more often. I suppose the question that bugs me about applying it to history and real life is, “What principles provide the truth as a guidepost, like they do in science?” To find out, I decided to take a look at some examples, like this one.

See image at Surviving Social Studies blog

Reading this makes me want to apply CER to a more recent event, such as the January 6th Insurrection. Since the question of whether it was an insurrection or not continues to be in doubt for some folks, how would you approach it using CER?

Question: Was the January 6th gathering of people an insurrection or attack on the U.S. Capitol?

Ok, here goes:

  • Sentence 1: Yes, the people who gathered on January 6th, 2021 killed Capitol police and injured others in their attempt to halt the certification of Democrat’s Joe biden’s victory in the Electoral College.
  • Sentences 2,3,4: Evidence suggests the following:
  • Premeditation was evident given how organizers and participants showed up with weapons and protective gear.
  • Individuals at the event worked together to breach the Capitol to stop certification of Biden’s victory, killing and maiming Capitol police in the process, as well as damaging property.
  • False information about the outcome of the presidential election had been shared by then President Trump and those working with him to overturn the results.
  • Sentence 5: In law, we know that when someone commits a series of unlawful violent acts in concert with others to stop a legal, government process (i.e. certification of the Electoral College votes), that is the definition of an insurrection.
  • Sentence 6: Therefore, the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol constitutes an insurrection, or revolt, against the lawful authority of the United States. I didn’t include news article citations for the evidence, but I would in an academic situation with students.

Thanks, Scott!

CERCA Method

While reading up on applications of CER in Social Studies, I stumbled on the CERCA method. It defines itself in this way:

The CERCA Framework is a scaffolded approach to literacy that helps students develop their critical thinking skills. ThinkCERCA’s expert-designed lessons walk students through the process of analyzing content-rich texts and multimedia to construct cohesive argumentative, informational, or narrative writings.

The CERCA method starts with an essential question, then a recursive process where

  1. Claim is developed;
  2. Evidence is sought to support claim;
  3. Reasoning that has students connecting evidence to their claim and reasoning;
  4. Counterargument where other points of view are considered and reviewed for strength/validity. Then, once the 4 steps are exhausted, students consider their audience and craft a conclusion.

Definitely worth exploring!