English: skills for learning
English: skills for learning

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English: skills for learning

4.8 Using diagrams to plan a science assignment

Sometimes just reading an assignment question is not sufficient to write a draft plan. You will now look at a science assignment that requires students to describe and explain but provides no information that could help them to write a plan.

The assignment title is:

Describe and explain the greenhouse effect.

Just reading this title is insufficient to outline a text easily because the title does not contain helpful key words such as cause, effect or similarities. Before planning it is therefore necessary to read about this effect. Having done this, information needs to be arranged into steps as this will help to plan the text.

The following activity provides a useful visual technique for planning the essay.

Activity 12

Allow approximately 10 minutes

Watch the following video in which Open University science tutor Phil explains to Zorica how to plan the assignment by using a diagram to visualise the information she needs to include.

Download this video clip.
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Sometimes with these, you get a process. And this is very common in a science essay question, to describe a process. And if you think back, we've got the other one that you did earlier. What's that?
The greenhouse effect.
The greenhouse effect one, yeah. That one is a classic process. If you had to write a paragraph to me now saying how it happens, how would you set about it?
I will try to use a diagram of any sort of ...
Yeah, exactly. A drawing of it.
... drawing of it makes it easier.
A diagram's really useful, because you can see what's going on in your mind then, and then just turn it into words, draw it. Draw it out first, and then describe it. I mean, if you take the greenhouse effect, what's the source of energy, first of all?
The sun.
Right, OK, so we start with ... well there's three sort of units to this. We've got the sun, up there. OK? We've got ...
Yeah, yeah. Sun, earth. And what's the other sort of component?
The atmosphere, yeah. So the atmosphere and clouds. OK? That looks like a cloud, does it? Yeah, that'll do. OK, atmosphere.
Which particular wavelength of light, what type of light?
Infrared, we're talking about. All right. So the sun's producing all sorts of different radiation, but the key one for heating effect is infrared. So you're getting infrared radiation. This is the first stage then.
So you want to think steps here. First stage is production of the infrared radiation which passes through the atmosphere to the earth. Two, absorbed by the earth.
So this is step three, it's re-emitted. What happens here at step four? What's the actual chemistry that's going on here?
They get absorbed by CO2, by water vapour.
So CO2, carbon dioxide, and water vapour. So you've got this very complex sort of system going on. And I find that if you draw it as a diagram like this, you've got the steps in the process. You can see them. It's just easier to describe them.
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Now put the following steps into order described by Phil and Zorica.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Infrared radiation emitted from the Sun.

  2. Absorption of infrared by the Earth.

  3. Re-emission of infrared to the atmosphere.

  4. Infrared absorbed by CO2 and H2O.

  • a.Step 1

  • b.Step 3

  • c.Step 4

  • d.Step 2

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = a
  • 2 = d
  • 3 = b
  • 4 = c


This activity shows the how diagrams can be used to both identify and present the steps of a process at the pre-writing stage. Depending on the number of words the student is required to write, they can then write either a paragraph or a longer text outlining each of the stages of the process.


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