I’m looking for ideas to incorporate writing into my general biology classes. I’ve tried term papers but many of my students struggled and it took a lot of class time. Any ideas for other relevant writing assignments? —V., Ohio
Writing in science has alternatives to traditional term papers or reports. Rather than making a formal writing project an “event” in class, it might be beneficial for students to experience how communicating information is an everyday science practice (as described in the Next Generation Science Standards).
A museum herpetologist told a group of teachers that although his research focused on snakes in their environments, a good portion of his time was spent writing—notes, memos, observations, summaries, reports, journal articles, blog entries, and letters. So if you have students write lab reports, make journal entries, summarize their learning, contribute to a class blog, take their own notes, or respond to open-ended items on an assessment, you’re already helping students with the focused type of writing used in science and engineering.
You can’t assume that students have the writing skills they need (especially for a term paper or formal report). You can teach students about writing, but the best way to develop skills is to have them write through planned and purposeful activities in class. Modeling is essential. Show students what effective science writing looks like (incorporating both words and graphics). Show them examples of ineffective writing and ask them to clarify it. Do a “think-aloud” as you write along with the students. Show them the value of text structures such as bulleted or numbered lists, headings, or tables.
When students display or share their writing in the classroom or with the community through a webpage or other publications, having an authentic audience adds another dimension of relevancy.