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March 2, 2021

NGSS Storylining: Using Entry Event Videos As Anchoring Phenomena

One of the hidden treasures of NGSS is the incorporation of coherence and phenomena-driven lessons. These strategies are not found in the standards themselves, but in the EQuIP rubric in the NGSS resource library.

A coherent lesson is a lesson that fits into a broader storyline. Coherent lessons flow together like a story, where each lesson connects to the previous one and the story progresses as students work through the unit. This storylining provides students a reason to progress through the unit and gives meaning to each of the lessons within.

The EQuIP rubric not only provides a process for evaluating a lesson’s alignment to the standards and three dimensional learning, but also allows a reviewer to look for how these components work together to make sense of phenomena. The reviewer then looks for evidence that the lessons have coherence.

Brian Reiser of Northwestern worked with A Framework for K-12 Science Education and with Achieve in the development of the NGSS standards. He created a storyline template that helps educators set the coherence of a lesson around an anchoring phenomenon.

Storyline template

This storyline template begins with anchoring phenomena that the unit is built around. Once students are presented with the phenomena, they are either posed with or asked to come up with a driving question. As students work to answer the driving question, they are presented with a series of smaller questions that must be answered in order to build up to the larger understanding of the anchoring phenomena. Each lesson utilizes NGSS practices and cross-cutting concepts to engage students in activities that help them build meaning as the unit progresses.

Anchoring Phenomena

Determining engaging anchoring phenomena is an important part of the process. The phenomenon should be an observable event, demonstration, or process that generates questions from the students. These phenomena should be puzzling, relevant, and engaging to the learners. Good phenomena should bundle multiple performance expectations that will allow students to utilize a variety of practices as they work to better understand the phenomena.

Using Entry Event Videos as Anchoring Phenomena

Entry events are components of project based learning (PBL) lessons that are designed to activate students’ thinking. They set a “need to know” for the unit and guide the sequence of the unit/project. In this way, entry events in PBL are much like anchoring phenomena in NGSS. Both are relevant occurrences in the natural world that engage students and set up their learning. They provide meaning and coherence for what the students are doing.

One way to present an entry event in PBL lessons is to create an entry event video. A wide variety of entry event videos can be found on the internet, but you can also make your own by thinking about what phenomenon you want your students to view, and assembling video, imagery, or acting out the concepts you would like them to see yourself.

Example of a Unit Driven by an Entry Event Video

This year, our biology team decided to use an entry event video as the phenomena for our DNA unit. I thought of our driving question and then created a video to engage students’ interest and set the purpose of their learning:

Students were presented with the video on the first day of the unit. After they watched it, we wrote the driving question presented in the video on the board: How can something so small create problems so large? Students were then asked to reflect on two things:

  • What do you already know about DNA?
  • What do you need to know about DNA in order to answer this question?

The “need-to-know” questions were left on a sideboard throughout the unit and students added other questions as the unit progressed. These questions were then used to guide the lessons of the unit. The purpose of each lesson was tied to a question on the board with the overall goal of answering the driving question. Below is the storyline guide for our DNA unit based on Brian Reiser’s template (click on the image to see a larger, readable version):

DNA Storyline


The entry event video created a purpose for learning about the basics of DNA. For students to develop an understanding of the role of DNA in genetic disorders, they had to learn about DNA’s structure, base pairing, protein structure, and protein production. While focus on the details of these processes is de-emphasized, a basic understanding is necessary to explain DNA’s relation to genetic disorders — the phenomena for the unit.

Students leave with an explanation of a natural event that is relevant to them and they meet multiple performance expectations in the process. Each lesson fit coherently into the larger scope and sequence of the unit and was guided by student questions. These are the hallmarks of an NGSS lesson, where focus is placed on the purpose and process, not just the content.

Thank you to my biology team at Johnston High School: Sara Kate Howe, Jennifer Rollings, and Jennifer Lehman for collaborating on this unit!

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