Integrating Writing into the Science Classroom|
The power of a scientific finding grows when communicated to others. When researchers publish their findings in scientific journals, other scientists can replicate and extend the experimentation.
Students must understand that the ability to write in an objective, precise, and logical manner is an essential scientific tool. By guiding students through well-designed written assignments, science teachers demonstrate the importance of writing in science, and provide opportunities for students to apply writing skills to relevant content.
Writing in the Science Curriculum
Incorporating writing into the science curriculum yields enormous benefits. Writing is not a passive, teacher-centered activity. When students write, they must think, forcing them to be active learners. Writing about newly-acquired content strengthens understanding, while allowing students to make connections with prior learning.
The writing process can force students to face and seek help with concepts that cause confusion. Writing increases retention, and enhances development of science vocabulary. With appropriate teacher feedback and interaction, student writing skills improve as their science knowledge increases.
With a multitude of topics to cover in a limited amount of time, science teachers must integrate relevant writing assignments into existing curriculum as seamlessly as possible. Student writing should also reflect the basic tenets of science. Consider the following when introducing and evaluating science writing assignments:
Specific Ideas for Incorporating Writing into the Science Curriculum
- Science writing should be objective. Student writing should focus on experimental findings, quantifiable data, and verifiable research. Unless specifically requested in an assignment, students should not offer personal opinions, and should avoid writing in the first person.
- Science writing should be logical. The scientific method follows a rational sequence from the development and testing of a hypothesis through the analysis of data and communication of findings. Student writing should reflect a similar logical, orderly sequence.
- Science writing should be precise. Qualitative statements such as "The results were interesting," or "The process took a long time," have no place in science writing. Student writing should focus on quantitative data and include sufficient relevant detail.
Science teachers typically think of the laboratory report as the primary means of incorporating writing into the science curriculum. While the development of this document is an essential skill, writing can be integrated into the science curriculum in numerous other ways.
Application of the following ideas, with appropriate management and feedback, will strengthen student writing skills while increasing understanding and retention of important science concepts.
Ongoing, consistent integration of writing into the science curriculum yields positive results for student achievement. As you look for ways to incorporate writing, remember that science lends itself to thinking about the unknown as well as the known. Encouraging students to write about their ideas for future experimentation into topics of interest stimulates the higher-order thinking skills that are crucial in scientific research.
- Begin class with a writing prompt that requires students to think. Give students a relatively short period of time at the beginning of the class period to summarize something they learned in the previous lesson, solve a problem based on prior learning, or speculate about the new topic that will be introduced. Lead a brief discussion about their responses before moving to a new topic.
- Utilize illustrations, graphs, and other graphics in a new way. Have students write text to accompany and describe visual elements such as graphs or diagrams. Students should analyze graphic material in one or two sentences, as it might appear in a textbook or on a Web site.
- Evaluate scientific articles. Have students read selected articles from scientific journals. Narrow the discussion and written assignment by focusing on components of the paper. For example, students might be asked to discuss how the scientist limited variables in the procedure, comment on trends observed in the data, or explain the relationship between the hypothesis and collected data.
- Keep a journal outlining procedures and findings. Have students describe laboratory work in an ongoing log. Entries might focus on general experiment procedures as well as new information and concepts acquired.
- Evaluate a seminar, lecture, or media presentation. Have students write a short evaluation of a presentation they have observed. Rather than asking students to simply write a summary, provide several prompts from which students can choose that focus on specific aspects of the presentation.
- Develop a letter to the editor of a scientific journal. After reading articles from one or more scientific journals over a period of time, have students write a letter to an editor. The letter might describe an opinion about a specific article or the quality of a journal in general.
This article was contributed by Jennipher Willoughby, a professional writer and former science and technology specialist for Lynchburg City Schools in Lynchburg, Virginia.