Writing in the Sciences Lesson Plan: Evidence in Scientific Journal Writing

Lesson Plan on the Element of “Evidence” in Scientific Journal Writing
(“Evidence” as defined in Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Academic Essay”)
Esther Muehlbauer, Queens College Department of Biology
CW2: Writing in the Sciences – Evolutionary Themes

Lesson Objective:  To efficiently support a thesis using “evidence” (e.g. facts, examples, or details) in writing for a scientific journal

Total Estimated Time: 75 minutes

Additional Outcomes:  Applying methods of using evidence to support a thesis, to writing in other academic fields.

Assignment Underway:  Writing Assignment #2: Scientists Writing for Scientists – A “Perspectives” Article for the Journal Science. Students are writing a “Perspectives” article from the vantage point of a paleoanthropologist evaluating the recent scientific literature on a fossil human ancestor.

Work completed before class: Students have read two scientific journal articles written about the evolutionary placement of a particular fossil ancestor (e.g. Neanderthals), and have brought copies of these articles to class.   

Sequence of classroom activities:

  1. The instructor passes out copies of Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Academic Essay”, and students are asked to focus on the third “element” – Evidence.  The passage on evidence is read out loud either by the instructor, or a student volunteer.  (5 minutes)
  2. Discussion.  The instructor leads a brief discussion, about the role of evidence in the scientific literature.   (A good time to stress the importance of evidence in the scientific method.)   (10 minutes)
  3.  Students are asked to take out one of their journal articles, and underline the sections that provide “evidence” for the thesis of the article.  On a separate sheet of paper students should catalog the different types of evidence provided (e.g. graphs, quotations, photographs etc.) with a total number for each type of evidence.    (15 minutes)
  4. Sharing information. A few student volunteers are asked to enumerate the different types of evidence they found in their articles.  These categories can be written on the board at the front of the room. When all the basic categories of evidence have been identified, the students may be asked, by a show of hands, which type of evidence was used the most, second most, third most, etc.   (15 minutes)
  5. Writing.  Students are asked to take out both of the evolution articles they brought to class and to draft an opening paragraph for a “Perspectives” article that utilizes both articles as sources, and incorporates at least two pieces of “evidence”. (15 minutes)
  6. A few student volunteers are called upon to read their paragraphs to the class.

Following each reading, the class is encouraged to critique the writing sample, in terms of how effectively evidence was incorporated.  (15 minutes)

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