Writing in the Sciences Lesson Plan: Motive in Science Essay Writing

Lesson Plan on the Element of “Motive” in Science Essay Writing
(“Motive” 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 understand the role of “motive” in structuring a scientific essay.

Total Estimated Time: 75 minutes

Additional Outcomes:  Applying motive and thesis-development techniques to writing in other academic 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 to class, “A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse”, an essay from Gould’s book, The Panda’s Thumb.  Students have also compiled lists of analogies between biology and other disciplines as a pre-draft writing exercise for Essay 4.

Sequence of classroom activities:

  1. The instructor distributes copies of Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Academic Essay”, and students are asked to focus on the second “element” – Motive.  The passage on motive is read aloud, either by the instructor or a student volunteer.  (5 minutes)
  2. Discussion.  The instructor leads a brief discussion about the importance of a thesis and “motive” in the development of a scientific essay.  (10 minutes)
  3.  Students are asked to take out their copies of Gould’s essay, “A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse” and spend a few minutes skimming it over, identifying the passages that denote the thesis and “motive” of the essay.  (10 minutes)
  4. Sharing information. Student volunteers are asked to read the passages from the essay that they think initially state the “motive” of the essay.  (5 minutes)
  5. Once there is a class consensus on this initial passage, students should then return to skimming the essay, highlighting any later passages that support the essay’s motive.  (10 minutes)
  6. Sharing information and discussion. Student volunteers are asked to read and comment on their selected passages that support the motive. The class as a whole is encouraged to comment on the writing technique, and its effectiveness in developing the motive and thesis of the essay. (15 minutes)
  7. Drafting a thesis statement.  Students are instructed to refer to their “analogy lists”, select one analogy, and write a thesis statement for an essay based on that analogy.  (Students can then use this thesis statement as a starting point for their formal essay for Assignment 4.)  (10 minutes)
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