Resource 5: Students’ writing
Teacher resource to support teaching approaches
Getting students to write about their ideas is a good way to find out what they understand. Traditionally most of the writing that students do in science involves writing short answers to closed questions, or copying notes from the board. If this is all the writing that your students do, then you will be missing opportunities for them to demonstrate what they know and to be creative.
Writing in science should definitely not be restricted to answering questions and copying notes. There are a variety of ways in which you can use children’s writing to probe their understanding, develop their knowledge, motivate them and refine their skills. Some of these are summarised below.
This stands for Directed Activities Related to Texts. As the name suggests the activities involve pupils working with texts that have been changed in some way. These activities provide a good alternative to simply copying off the board as the students will have to think about what they are writing.
One common approach is to provide some text with words missing. The students have to fill in the gaps. The missing words can be listed below, or not, depending on the abilities of the pupils. The first letter of the missing words can be supplied, which makes it a bit easier.
Other approaches are as follows:
- Sentences that link together to explain a process or phenomenon can be jumbled up and pupils have to decide their correct order.
- Sentences that have to be completed in order to provide complete definitions.
- Diagrams are provided which students have to label.
- A table is provided with some gaps to be filled in.
- A piece of text is provided in which students have to underline key words or definitions.
- A piece of text is provided and students have to use it to make a table or a diagram or produce a summary.
You supply a list of scientific words, and definitions. Students have to match the right word with the correct definition.
Experiment write up
Encouraging your students to write about their experiments in their own words will show you how much they understand. A strategy that teachers often use is to provide some headings and some key words that their students should be trying to use so that they can structure their writing.
Concept map or mind map construction
This involves breaking down a complex idea, or process, into sections and linking them graphically to display their logical sequential relationships and how they contribute to an understanding of the whole. This is normally quite difficult and needs a lot of practice. Probably more significantly it requires a sound knowledge of the subject if the maps are to make sense.
Writing for different audiences
This sort of writing sometimes helps students who find science difficult, but who enjoy humanities. Examples include:
- Producing a poster. This will not only give pupils an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding in writing but also enable them to use drawings and diagrams to illustrate science concepts.
- Producing an information leaflet on a particular topic that could be used by younger children.
- Writing a letter or a newspaper article to express a point of view. For example, arguing for an issue which involves explaining some scientific background such as vaccination, or preventing HIV.