Writing in the Sciences Lesson Plan: Descriptive Writing

Lesson Plan on Descriptive Writing- From Observation to Description
Esther Muehlbauer, Queens College Department of Biology
CW2: Writing in the Sciences – Evolutionary Themes

Lesson Objective:  To develop writing techniques that bridge first hand observations with  written descriptions.

Total Estimated Time: 75 minutes

Additional Outcomes:  Applying descriptive writing to other genres of (scientific) literature.

Assignment Sequence Underway:  Writing Assignment #1: Scientists Writing for Themselves – A Field Journal.  Modeled after Charles Darwin’s Journal of Researches, from his legendary journey on the H.M.S. Beagle, students are writing several entries for a journal log, based on their own hypothetical “visit” to the Galapagos Archipelago.

Work completed before class: Students will have previously “visited” the Galapagos by researching information about a specific bird, reptile or mammal, indigenous to the islands, and will have taken online “virtual tours” of the Archipelago.  Students will also have read a few of Darwin’s original journal entries.

In class:

  1. The instructor reads a brief passage from Darwin’s Journal of Researches, to further acquaint students with the style of writing in a scientist’s recorded observations, and to set a tone for the student writing to follow.  (5 minutes)
  2. Discussion revolving around Darwin’s style of recording information. (10 minutes)
  3. Visualizing. Students are asked to take a few moments to close their eyes and imagine a particular habitat on the Galapagos, focusing on the feeling of place – sounds, smells, visual landscape, season, time of day, light, and temperature.  (3 minutes)
  4. Writing. Students are instructed to write a one page description of the habitat they visualized, utilizing sensory information from their “experience”.   (20 minutes)
  5. Several student volunteers are asked to read passages from their descriptions of habitat to the class, with intermittent class discussion evaluating the writing. Some discussion of the challenges of transcribing observations will be incorporated.  (15 minutes)
  6. At the end of class, students are instructed to use this preliminary writing as a segue for their journal log entries  for Assignment #1.
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