Guided Reading of Scientific Journal Articles
Science Education Resource Center (SERC), Carleton College Author Profile
This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection
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- Scientific Accuracy
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This page first made public: Jul 1, 2010
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This is a sequence of assignments for my Structural Geology course that guides students through the process of critically reading and analyzing scientific journal articles. For each article, I outline the general questions they should try to answer as they read any journal article, then give specific versions of each of those questions for the particular article assigned. For the last article, I leave it to the students to figure out what the specific versions of the questions would be. I chose these particular articles for their relevance to topics covered in my course and for their readability. I believe the assignments can easily be adapted to guided reading of any scientific literature.
Required undergraduate course in structural geology
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
Before reading each of the articles, students need to have a basic grasp of the structural geology described in the article. For the first two articles, that's faulting; for the third article, shear zones and their associated rock fabrics; for the fourth article, Mohr-Coulomb failure and the effects of pore fluid pressure.
How the activity is situated in the course
This is a sequence of guided reading assignments for five journal articles students read (and discuss in the subsequent class periods) over the course of the semester.
Content/concepts goals for this activity
My goal for this sequence of assignments is for students to be able to read and understand scientific journal articles by the end of the term. (I have found that giving them many opportunities to practice this skill results in considerable improvement over the course of the semester; once or twice is simply not enough.)
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Critical thinking. I want students to be able to sift through the data and analysis presented in a journal article and decide for themselves whether the data support the authors' conclusions.
I also want students to relate what they read in journal articles to what they are learning about in the class. Where appropriate, my questions focus their attention on those connections.
Other skills goals for this activity
A subsidiary goal for these assignments is for students to improve their writing skills – in particular, their ability to summarize what they read in their own words.
Description of the activity/assignment
This is a sequence of assignments for my Structural Geology course that guides students through the process of critically reading and analyzing scientific journal articles. For each article, I outline the general questions they should try to answer as they read any journal article, then give specific versions of each of those questions for the particular article assigned. For the last article, I leave it to the students to figure out what the specific versions of the questions would be for that article. The general questions are:
1. What basic research question are the authors trying to answer?
2. What makes that research question significant? (That is, why try to answer that question? Why does it matter?)
3. What data did the authors collect?
4. What is the authors' interpretation of their data?
5. Do you think that the data they collected supports their conclusions? Why or why not?
While the handouts below are specific to the articles we read in my class, these questions could be re-framed for any scientific journal articles that you would like your students to read and understand.
Determining whether students have met the goals
On the day students turn in their answers to these assignments, we discuss the article in class. Students' contributions to the discussion, in addition to their written answers to the assignments, tell me how well they have understood the articles. More information about assessment tools and techniques.
Download teaching materials and tips
Full citations for the articles are given in the assignment handouts.