Writing: What’s the Purpose? What’s the Structure?

Writing can be hard. For many students, the act of writing is a challenge and not top on their list of what they want to be doing in science. Experiment. Build. Innovate. Those words often come to mind before “write”. Yet, students need to learn to write and if not now, when? If not writing about science in science, where? 

Writing in science is an area of growth for me and I appreciate any and all feedback, suggestions and ideas. I realize that the clearer I am on my purpose and understanding of what I want students to do, the more chance of success students will have. As we continue to work on writing up evidence to support the claim that Yeast is a Living Organism, I went back and forth over what students should be provided with as a structure or scaffold. As my teaching goal was not organization, I decided to provide students with the organization of this writing piece.

electron microscope budding yeast 

(Image courtesy of National Geographic)

The image above shows budding yeast cells. My class is beginning to think about the structure of living organisms and how cells function. I want their minds to be focused on writing about evidence. I wonder how well they can connect evidence to discussed characteristics of life. Cut them a break. If we’re not specifically working on how to structure the writing piece, then give it them! Several students in each class are already there. They naturally think in an organized way or have spent time writing in a formal manner. For many others, the opening challenge of how to structure their writing is a huge obstacle. I hope that by providing them with a smooth path of how to show their understanding, they can spend more time explaining evidence. Other thoughts?


Writing like a Scientist

The wheels on the Yeast is a living organism bus are almost wearing off. My 7th graders have performed an experiment, observed a demonstration, designed an investigation and worked with microscopes to collect evidence to support the claim about yeast. Beginning with characteristics of life, we’ve followed the pattern of experimentation for a class balanced with processing of information for a class. It’s been an engaging time and I’ve been impressed with the improvement in many students – and the year has just begun!

So far, feedback has revolved around classroom conversations. (Yep, I will work on collecting more responses from individual students as the year progresses.) To wrap up this series, I want my students to write up their evidence to support the claim. My thinking is to not focus on the structure of a traditional scientific lab report but to spend time on the processing of information and how students write up their ideas.

This year, I am super fortunate to work with a resourceful ESOL teacher who is helping me be more deliberate in the teaching of science writing. So helpful that he came in and worked with students in a mini-lesson. How do we write as a scientist?

Using the following excerpt from their text book, the students were asked to begin noticing features of scientific writing. Slowly, the page became more and more annotated as students provided examples of verb tense, linking phrases, active vs passive voice. The term “modal verb” was a new one for them but the idea of structure to explain things not fully certain was understood.

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They brought up the need for expanding vocabulary and using specific words. After the short mini-lesson, students began compiling all of their evidence and thoughts from the various activities into one place. They’re working on drafts to support the claim that Yeast is a living organism.

The need to be deliberate and explicit in my teaching becomes more and more apparent as the years go by. If the goal is for students to write a strong report, then they need to be provided with the support and scaffolding to improve their writing. We’ll come back to these skills throughout the year as I hope my students begin writing more like a scientist. I’m curious – what are other folks doing to help build writing skills in science?