Writing in the Sciences Lesson Plan: Introducing Scientific Terminology

Lesson Plan on Introducing Scientific Terminology in a Journal Article
Esther Muehlbauer, Queens College Department of Biology
CW2: Writing in the Sciences – Evolutionary Themes

Lesson Objective:  To gracefully introduce scientific terminology pertaining to evolution in a professional journal article.

Total Estimated Time: 75 minutes

Additional Outcomes:  Applying methods of introducing technical/trade terminology 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 compiled a list of 5 scientific terms taken from the article, which they bring to class.  

Sequence of classroom activities:

  1. Listing terms. The instructor asks students to select one term from their list, and then, one student at a time, to write the selected terms on the board at the front of the classroom.  A list of 20 -25 terms will be generated. (A good way to build scientific vocabulary.)

(10 minutes)

  1. Discerning readable writing.  The instructor reads two selected paragraphs on human origins, taken verbatim from scientific journal articles.  One article has been selected for its clear presentation of specialized terminology, and the other for its more cryptic use of terms.  (The paragraphs can also be exhibited on a smartboard or overhead projector.)  (5 minutes)
  2. Discussion.  The instructor asks students to comment on the presentation of the two paragraphs, articulating the comprehensibility of each.  After students have clearly identified which paragraph is more readable, the instructor asks students to evaluate the techniques that the author employed in the more comprehensible passage. (15 minutes)
  3. Writing.  Students are instructed to select at least three terms from the list on the board and draft a paragraph on evolution that introduces these terms “gracefully” into their writing.  (20 minutes)
  4. Students are then instructed to swap their paragraphs with another student, and to underline sentences in the given passage that uses terminology in a way that is clear and “comfortable”.   Papers are returned to their “authors”. (5 minutes)
  5. Discussion.  A few student volunteers are asked to read their paragraphs to the class. Following each reading, the class is encouraged to critique the writing sample, particularly in terms of terminology use.  (15 minutes)
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