Lesson Plans: Critical Thinking and Writing Activities in the Science Classroom

Importance of writing in the science classroom:

Mastery of scientific concepts is inextricably linked with effective communication. Novel experiments and new discoveries made by scientists reach the wider community and gain greater visibility through written documents in the scientific journals. Good science writing skills include usage of appropriate scientific terminology, demonstration of clarity of thought and expression, logical reasoning, ability to describe the results of experimental findings qualitatively and quantitatively, formulation of ideas and drawing of conclusions supported with sufficient data and evidences. The writing needs to be in an objective, precise and logical manner.

Engaged in writing, thinking and learning
Engaged in writing, thinking and learning

Common writing practices in the science classrooms

Normally, in the science classrooms, common writing experiences of the students include taking notes dictated by the teacher or written on the board, answering worksheets, tests or exam questions and writing formal lab reports or essays. However, these, though essential components of the educational system do not trigger thinking and alone cannot provide meaningful prospects for the students to improve or build the writing skills within the context of the science disciplines. Hence the onus lies on the science teachers to design written assignments which will stimulate creative and critical thinking, a crucial part of science education. The best practices will be to consistently integrate informal free-writing activities into the science classrooms while delivering the lessons. These writing assignments will yield enormous benefits for both the student and the teacher community.

10 useful ideas to integrate writing into the science classroom

After doing some research and thinking in this line, I came up with the following ideas of amalgamating writing with the science teaching. Some of these are tried and tested in real classrooms and gave great student response.

1. ‘Open-ended question’: Begin or end the class with an open-ended question. Let the students know that ‘open-ended questions’ can have more than one possible answer, which will reflect their original thoughts and ideas and in most cases no answer is considered wrong. In this way, even the quiet and less confident students will get involved in active learning and make an effort to pen down their ideas. Examples:

  • After a biology lesson on plant growth and development with the seventh graders, you could ask, “How would you explain photosynthesis to a class of fourth graders?”
  • After introducing a new topic, such as periodic table you could pause and ask, “What do you think is the relevance of this topic in real life?”
  • Before starting a new topic, you could ask them to write what they already know about the topic.
  • You can think of questions starting with, “Why do you think……?” or “How do you think …………?” Key words such as describe, explain, compare, explore or predict can help create the context for an open-ended question. Open-ended questions, if relevant to the content of learning will stimulate productive thinking.

Compare and contrast using Venn diagram
Compare and contrast using Venn diagram

2. ‘Compare and contrast using Venn diagrams”: Scientific proficiency often requires the skill to distinguish between different processes, concepts and to compare and contrast between various phenomena and organisms. You could ask your students to compare and contrast between two different processes using Venn diagrams. Encourage them to use coloured pens. Examples:

  • Compare and contrast between concave and convex lenses using a Venn diagram.
  • Write down the differences and similarities between alkali metals and halogens using a Venn diagram.

Science cartoons can be used for learning
Science cartoons can be used for learning

 3. “Create science cartoon strips”: Have students develop creative thinking skills through this writing activity. Examples:

  • After discussing the earlier models of atomic structure, you could ask, “Create a comic strip bringing out the conversation that might have took place between J.J. Thomson and Ernest Rutherford”
  • Draw cartoon strips to show the step-by-step development of a frog from tadpole
  • After teaching a chemistry lesson of elements, compounds and mixtures and discussing various methods of separation of mixtures you could ask, “Imagine that you are alone in an island surrounded by sea on all sides. You are thirsty and need water for drinking. You could only manage to find a kettle with a lid and spout, a matchbox with a few matchsticks, a knife, a piece of cloth, a copper wire and a plastic bottle. Draw cartoon strips to show how you will convert sea water into drinking water.”

4. “Analyze illustrations, graphs and diagrams’: Collect some relevant illustrations, graphs, diagrams, charts or tables from the internet, news magazines or any textbook and ask them to analyze in a few sentences. Provide some guided questions to maximize results. Examples: Analyze the following graph:

  • What type of graph is shown?
  • What does the graph represent?
  • What is on the x-axis?
  • What is on the y-axis?
  • What are the units on the axes?
  • What is the numerical range of the data?
  • What kind of patterns/trends can you see in the data?
  • How do the patterns you see in the graph relate to other things you know?

5. ‘Sort into groups’: As you begin or end the class, list some words on the board, that are relevant to the content and ask them to classify the words into two or more groups and mention the basis of their classification. Examples:

  • Randomly write the names of 15-20 elements on the board and ask, “Classify these elements into two groups and mention the basis of your classification”
  • Randomly write the names of some organisms and ask, “Classify these organisms into three groups and mention the basis of your classification”

6. ‘Explain the relationship between key terms’: After completing a lesson, you could write some key words related to the recently taught topic on the board. Ask them to explain the relationship between the words or meaningfully connect the key words in a few sentences. Examples:

  • Give a list of key words: atom, cation, anion, electron, oxidation, reduction. Ask them to briefly explain the connection between all these words using the knowledge they have acquired during the lesson.

 

 7. ‘During lab sessions’: Before a lab demonstration, ask, “predict what will happen when ………………” questions. During a lab demonstration, make them write detailed observations in their own words and after the experiment, let them draw inferences from the observed data. During the lab session, you could ask,

  • “What would you expect to see if …………. is replaced by ………….?
  • “What would you expect to see if …………. is heated?
  • Design questions by changing the conditions of the experiment or by changing different variables.

8. ‘During multi-media lessons’: When you plan your lessons to show some relevant video clips or slide presentation to your students, get them involved in brief writing activities, so that they concentrate and make an effort to absorb what they see. For example: After the lesson on radioactivity, you would like to show them You Tube videos on Chernobyl disaster and Nagasaki/Hiroshima atomic bomb explosion. Ask questions such as,

  • “What are the significant differences between the two disasters?”
  • “How can we avoid such disasters in future?”
  • You could also ask them to simply write the summary of the videos and identify the ‘big idea’ in a few sentences.

9. ‘Using science news articles’: Providing opportunities to read science news article associated with the topic being taught in the classroom will help students connect to the real world issues. Have students write a short evaluation of the article, provide them some guided questions so that they can focus on specific aspects of the article. Discuss about authentic research findings and biased findings based on preliminary research. Tell your students that as readers, we have the right to critique and question a scientific article if we think that the results were not supported by sufficient, reliable data. For example you could ask,

  • “Do you think the evidences provided in the article are sufficient? Why?”
  • “Who do you think will be benefitted the most by this scientific breakthrough?”
  • “Write two things you found most interesting about the article”
  • “Being a critic, judge whether the scientific results mentioned in the article is truly important for mankind and such expensive research should be continued?”

10. ‘Concept-mapping’: Ask your students to read a short paragraph from the textbook or any handout provided and have them break down the information into parts and organize graphically or pictorially using minimum text. Encourage them to use various visual aids, such as tables, flowcharts, cycles, graphs, venn diagrams, spider web etc. Example:

  • Depict the process of extraction of aluminium in a flowchart

Benefits for the students and the teachers

Benefits for the students: Ongoing in-class writing assignments have manifold benefits for the students of different learning styles. The advanced students are hooked as they find the assignments challenging whereas the withdrawn ones gain confidence as they get frequent opportunities to write their own ideas without the fear of making a mistake or losing marks. Relevant writing about what they learn or read in the classroom:

  • Compels students to clarify doubts during the writing process
  • Allows students to make connections with prior learning
  • Encourages students to formulate their own ideas
  • Enhances understanding of the science concepts
  • Stimulates the higher-order thinking skills
  • Strengthens their science writing skills
  • Expands their science knowledge
  • Helps better retention

Benefits for the science teachers: Brief, well-designed free writing exercises incorporated within the lesson period will be of immense help to the science teachers. Instead of directly judging the student by his/her written work, the teachers can guide them towards improved writing through planned assignments and give individual/collective feedback. The science teachers:

  • Will get a window into the students’ understanding of the content taught through their written work
  • Will get an opportunity to design ‘student centered’ activity and encourage active learning in the classroom
  • Will find the correction load manageable as weekly the notebooks can be collected and the feedback given
  • Will get a clear glimpse of the students’ strengths and weaknesses and guide them accordingly over a period of time
  • Can use these as essential formative assessments in the continuous and comprehensive evaluation system
  • Can tailor these writing activities according to his/her class size and level
  • Will be able to emphasize the importance of writing within the context of science
  • Will feel rewarded being able to challenge the advanced, enthusiastic learners as well as draw out the quiet students at the same time

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Comments 16 comments

martycraigs profile image

martycraigs 6 years ago

Unfortunately, it seems the U.S. educational system has lost sight of the importance of strong writing skills. I agree that strong writing skills are required for most fields, including science.


sriparna 6 years ago

Thanks for your comments. In my opinion, it is difficult to teach writing unless you are a language teacher, as we were not taught to write across disciplines. As an academician, I find this the most challenging area and the most important too. Let's hope we can do something better for our 21st century learners.


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 6 years ago from TEXAS

Language skill - and more, language love and internalization - must begin early. First, of course, in the home. If it is well used there, those most crucial first usages and practices of a person's native language are formed on the right track.

Then in the lower grades of school, if a really good teacher promotes the techniques and particulars of the language in a way which implants that love of it and RESPECT for it, all the following lessons and practice of it will flow smoothly.

I had such parents and older siblings and such teachers, for which I'm ever grateful. I also had exposure to the opposite conditions, in which my first husband grew up among poorly educated people and even teachers who were proud of their bad language skills. I had to protect my own children to get them onto the right track, and there were still remnants of the bad examples!

Of course language is and should be a dynamic, fluid thing, but the purpose it fills is to communicate accurately, which requires that the sender and the receiver have the same understanding of the meaning of words and the organization of sentences and so forth. For that to be possible, there must be a standard of all those factors, i.e.: vocabulary, spelling, grammar & composition, all of which form & change shades of meaning as they are being used. That is why respect for language involves understanding of and consistency in their use.

Well - I'm surely preaching to the choir here! You're the real expert, but I wanted to confirm that I agree with your premises wholeheartedly. And, by the way, my first husband became a science teacher and it is true that being able to communicate it well is the difference between being in an ivory tower studying it and being able to share it well with others! He barely got into college, his language skills were so bad. He had to take remedial reading and English composition, in fact. He overcame some of his early training, but it required a lot of help.

Thanks for a most informative article! And thank you for visiting my site too!


sriparna profile image

sriparna 6 years ago from New Delhi Author

Thanks Nellieanna for your detailed comments and sharing your own experiences. As a passionate science teacher, I would really try to give the best to my students, so that in-depth understanding of the science concepts matches with the power of communication, both oral and written.


TroyM profile image

TroyM 6 years ago

VOlunteer teacher here. Your info will come in handy, thanks!


sriparna profile image

sriparna 6 years ago from New Delhi Author

Thanks TroyM it's my pleasure if the hub is of any use to you.


Polly C profile image

Polly C 6 years ago from UK

Hi sriparna, I thought this was an excellent article. I was the world's worst science student at school as it was never something that interested me, but as you say, a lot of what we did was copying stuff from the board (it has been a good 20 years since I was at school though!) The problem with this method is that lot's of pupils can't remember the information after copying it down.

You have explained really good ways to develop creative thinking in science lessons, by open ended questions etc. One of my friends is a senior lecturer at a university in England, teaching science, and last year she got together a group of younger children (my son was one) and made a fun dvd acted out by the children, in a way that was sparking questions about microbes etc. (My son had to roll around in the garden and get really messy). This was actually shown to 6th form students at school (A level age), as she sometimes goes around schools as well. In the dvd, the children then put the questions across, relevant to the topics they have acted out. It captured the 6th formers attention quite well.

I thought this was a very good hub, even though it's not really my subject I think it could be very helpful for many people.


sriparna profile image

sriparna 6 years ago from New Delhi Author

Thanks so much Polly for your comments. Especially your son's involvement in a fun DVD made by your friend seems really interesting, I'll definitely suggest something like that to my school authorities, I teach in a senior school. Thanks for your appreciation.


liljen23 profile image

liljen23 6 years ago from Shreveport,LA

This is a great hub on writing with science teaching and you explained everything perfectly, keep it up..


sriparna profile image

sriparna 6 years ago from New Delhi Author

Thank you Liljen, you comments are motivating.


Mr. D's Teacher Resource Website Matthew De Gasperi 6 years ago

Thanks for this post on the 10 useful ideas to integrate writing into the science classroom. I agree that these methods are effective in promoting writing in the science classroom. It's mostly the same information simply displayed in more usable formats.


renuka1160@yahoo.com 5 years ago

I am a science teacher in Guyana, SA. I love science and this article was very beneficiary to me. Please continue to posts more articles like these. Hats off to you.


DON BALDERAS profile image

DON BALDERAS 5 years ago

This article hopes to encourage more teachers to do inter-disciplinary teaching which should be a must for all in the educational business. It is so important for language to be always part of teaching any subject, in this case, it's science, expecially the macro skills needed to be developed by students. Thank you for sharing this encouraging hub.


NH-Acadamy 4 years ago

I teach students of all ages science. I have their parents come to me and tell me i teach the best science they have ever seen. Which isn't much i understand. I teach in NH. But i got alot of information out of this piece of work. Thanks.


ken blair profile image

ken blair 4 years ago

Science is one challenging subject back in the days. I think one needs to have passion with the subject first before anyone can write excellent science articles or whatsoever. But, it's indeed commendable and quite a talent for science inclined individuals and at the same time putting science knowledge to writing.


ingenioustech profile image

ingenioustech 4 years ago from India

really nice information shared...........i find these ways totally unique from what is followed conventionally...........although the implementation would take up a lot of time, but once implemented it is for the better........

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