Writing in the Sciences Lesson Plan: Structure in Writing for a Science Text

Lesson Plan on the Element of “Structure” in Writing for a Science Text                   
(“Structure” 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 effectively structure a section of a science textbook as a logical and progressive order of topics.

Total Estimated Time: 75 minutes

Additional Outcomes:  Applying “structuring techniques” to writing in other academic fields.

Assignment Underway:  Writing Assignment #3: Scientists Writing for Students – A Textbook Passage on Cultural Evolution.   Students are writing a chapter section for a college evolution textbook, on the advent of cultural evolution.

Work completed before class: Students have read the chapter on “Cultural Evolution” in the textbook, Biology, Evolution and Human Nature (Wiley, 2001), and have brought reprints of the chapter to class.

Sequence of classroom activities:

  1. The instructor hands out copies of Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Academic Essay”, and students are asked to focus on the sixth “element” – Structure.  The passage on structure 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 structure in the scientific literature, particularly as it may apply to writing for a textbook.   (10 minutes)
  3.  Students are asked to take out their chapter reprints, and on a separate sheet of paper, list the order of the chapter headings. A student volunteer may be asked to write his/her list on the front board. (10 minutes)
  4. Discussion.  Students are asked to consider the sequence of chapter headings. Is it logical?  Is there a better way to sequence these same headings? (15 minutes)
  5. Students are asked to “go back to the drawing board” and reformat the chapter headings in an alternate sequence that is logical. (10 minutes)
  6. Discussion. A few student volunteers are asked to write their reformatted sequences on the front board. This is followed by a class discussion of the merits/weaknesses of these new formats. The overriding question to be addressed is whether the sequence of ideas affects the reader’s overall comprehension of the material?
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