Writing in the Sciences Lesson Plan: How to Open and Close an Essay

Lesson Plan on How to “Open” and “Close” an Essay
Esther Muehlbauer, Queens College Department of Biology
CW2: Writing in the Sciences – Evolutionary Themes

Lesson Objective:  To develop skill in writing strong opening and closing paragraphs for a scientific essay.

Total Estimated Time: 75 minutes

Additional Outcomes:  Applying the skills of opening/closing essays, to writing in other disciplines.

Assignment Underway:  Writing Assignment #4: Scientists Writing for Society – Essay for a Periodical.  Students have been “commissioned” to write an essay for the periodical of the American Museum of Natural History, in the tradition of Stephan Jay Gould’s column, “This View of Life” – essays that explore relationships between biology and art, music, history, philosophy or literature.

Work completed before class: Students have read several of Stephan Jay Gould’s essays, and have brought copies of these essays to class.  As a pre-draft writing assignment for essay #4, students have drafted opening paragraphs based on an analogy they developed between biology and another discipline.

Sequence of classroom activities:

  1. Reading and Discussion. The instructor, or a student volunteer, reads the opening and closing paragraphs for two of Gould’s essays, and students are asked to analyze/comment on the structuring of the paragraphs.  (15 minutes)
  2. Listing characteristics. Students are asked to jot down, as two lists, characteristics that they feel are important for an opening paragraph for their “analogy essay”, and for a concluding paragraph.  (10 minutes)
  3. Sharing ideas.  Student volunteers are asked to read their lists to the class, first for opening paragraphs and then for closings. The instructor writes some of the important characteristics from the students’ lists on the front board, and imparts additional ideas that may not have been addressed. By the end of the discussion, students should have a basic outline of what constitutes good opening/closing paragraphs. (15 minutes)
  4. Evaluating previous writing.  Using these criteria, students review the opening paragraphs they had previously written, and revise them. (15 minutes)
  5. Reading.  A few student volunteers are asked to read their revised paragraphs, and other students are encouraged to critique them. (10 minutes)
  6. Time permitting, students are asked to draft a closing paragraph for their “analogy essay”.  Reading and class discussion may follow.
  7. Students may use these opening/closing paragraphs as starting points for Writing Assignment #4.
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