Teach the Earth > Early Career > Previous Workshops > Workshop 2010 > Program > Teaching Activities > Literature Review and Scientific Figures

Literature Review and Scientific Figures

Sarah Feakins
University of Southern California
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Jun 22, 2010


This assignment is a guided, concise literature review. It is designed to provide students with the skills, the time management assistance and assessment feedback, building towards the successful completion of a term project (a larger literature review).

I take a tiered approach to help students identify, develop and apply the skill of scientific writing. Science writing is not creative writing, but an argument well supported by referenced facts. Students develop comprehension, distillation, summarization and higher order interpretive skills. This activity includes an example, a grading rubric, a student evaluation exercise (think-pair-share format for the example) and in a subsequent week peer evaluation of student assignments within the discussion section. The revised version is evaluated by the teaching assistant (with feedback). Ultimately this prepares students for their term paper, which is graded by the professor. This class has about 15 students.

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Undergraduate upper division major optional course in climate science.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Half a semester of climate science in this course, and 3 prior assignments that engage students in literature searches, reading scientific papers and graphs.

How the activity is situated in the course

Part of a sequence of exercises half way through the course.

This exercise is assessed as a standalone component, but the assessed product can be revised and used in the term paper.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Content: Sample writing is on the topic of climate models, paleoclimate and the Little Ice Age. Students then pick a course-related topic of their choosing.

Concept goals: To master effective, concise scientific prose supported by quantified and illustrated examples.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This assignment spans all levels of Blooms Taxonomy from knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

Anecdotal evidence surprisingly suggests that many scientists do not value the higher order thinking involved in and demonstrated by good writing. This exercise makes these higher order thinking goals explicit, refinements or instructor emphasis might attempt to make this goal even more clear.

Other skills goals for this activity

Writing skills - concise, coherent, referenced.
Literature review skills - Searching Web of Science for suitable scientific paper on relevant topic, guided ideas for various ways to approach a literature search.

Description of the activity/assignment

To prepare for this writing assignment, students do a series of discussion section and homework assignments designed to familiarize them with scientific literature, literature reviews and the reading and interpretation of scientific papers and figures. In class students received a lecture on the example literature review providing continuity of topical content, in more depth than class lecture. The condensed literature review exercise serves as preparation for their term project, which includes a term paper and a presentation on a climate related topic of their choice. The topic content could be exchanged for any other for this writing exercise.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Concise literature review and figure that conveys the findings of the cited paper. Assessment can be based on the cogency of the argument, the appropriate choice of figure and supporting facts, accuracy of the interpretation of the figure and how well the students have mastered the writing of a concise literature review.

A grading rubric is provided and used in the class exercise to educate through active use of these evaluation metrics.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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